I started reading this book with my emotions running high, knowing Iain Banks had completed it so near to death. But I determined to be fair, not to like it just because he died. But I did like it. A lot. The story is full of imagery: the quarry, the actual hole in the ground is the unknown faced by the two key characters: Guy, who is facing death; and his son Kit, who faces life without his father. Both stand on the edge of emptiness.
Kit is the key narrator. Described as ‘a bit odd’ and ‘socially disabled’, I liked him straight away. As often with a young narrator, the author puts words of wisdom into the words of an innocent. Perhaps Kit has more self-awareness than his elders. He is certainly an innocent who is learning quickly. The action takes place over one weekend, the limited timespan and setting in the house and edge of quarry give it the feeling of a stage play at times.
A group of friends gathers at Guy’s house, to spend time with him as he dies. But there is always a feeling that the adults want something from Kit, that no-one is being honest , that they are looking for something. This leads Kit into the quarry, the brooding threat there all the time outside the house. As they wonder whether the hole of the quarry stretches beneath the house’s foundations, and if the house will fall into it, we learn about Kit’s disputed identity. Who is his mother? The assumptions he made as a child are now being challenged, the certainty of his childhood is dug from beneath his feet just as the rock in the quarry has been extracted.
It’s impossible to read Guy’s bitterness about his own mortality and not think of Banks’s illness. But this is a tightly-written novel that I defy anyone coming to it not knowing the author to guess that the author was dying. There was only one scene where the editor’s hand was needed, Kit’s climb down into the quarry does go on a bit. But this is a minor gripe.
A fitting finale to an illustrious bibliography.
‘The Quarry’ by Iain Banks [UK: Abacus]
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