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The QuarryThis is a really sad review to write, because as everyone will know The Quarry is the last book completed by Iain Banks before his untimely death a month or so ago, a real loss to the world of books. And as everyone probably also knows, one of the main characters is dying of cancer, a fact that Banks made much of in his last interviews, lamenting the lateness of his research amidst a lot of gallows humour. I was very lucky to have met him briefly at a book signing in London where the Book God and I queued to get our copy of Excession signed and had a little chat about The Culture and Michael Moorcock. He was a twinkly man with a dry sense of humour and a lot of interest to say and he will be missed by his fans.

His last book centres around Kit who is 18 and somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He is also in the middle of the last weeks of his father Guy’s illness, cancer which is at an advanced stage and, with only the help of a sort of housekeeper, Kit is the main carer. the events of the book take place over one weekend where hid father’s closest friends come to visit, say their last goodbyes and, which seems to be important for all of them, look for a video recording of them when they were students which if it got into the public domain would have a real effect on all of their lives. Kit assumes that it is a sex tape but that isn’t made clear for quite a while, because of course the tape is the McGuffin that kicks off a book which is about family, death, grief, friendship and growing up different. Kit doesn’t have effective people skills and some of the humour in the book is watching him work out how best to interact with the people around him, what is and isn’t acceptable to say.

I really liked The Quarry, though some of the characters in the book are quite unpleasant, not least Guy himself who is suffering physically and mentally and takes every opportunity to launch invective at the people around him. Thankfully Kit is a superb character, complex and simple all at once, trying his best. The thing he wants to know most of all is who is mother is, something that has always been kept hidden from him.

This is a very funny book in places, and although the subject matter takes on a whole new significance when you factor in that Banks got his diagnosis as he was coming to the end of the writing process he doesn’t hold back, and some of the passages where Guy lets loose how he feels are astonishingly bitter though you don’t get that sense from Banks that he necessarily agrees, because it is a book with quite a lot of hope in it.

So, a story that is really worth reading, sad as I said that there will be no more written, though I have two or three of his works that I still haven’t read so something for me to look forward to at least.

n336207I wasn’t sure what to expect with Every Last One. I could tell from the Amazon reviews that knowing anything except for the basic plot could really spoil the impact of the story, but I think its safe to say that it is a book of two halves – with a tragic event in the middle, which came as a total shock to me (as it seems to have done to other readers).

This is the story of the Latham family, told from the perspective of Mary Beth Latham,mother, wife, businesswoman, friend, all of those things and so much more. I really liked her – can you tell? It’s a picture of  a happy family life, not perfect by any means (which is great because I don’t believe any family is perfect, we all have our oddities and tensions and skeletons) but generally pretty good, a couple who care for each other and their three children, all teenagers. We get a very clear picture of their family dynamic and as the eldest of three and the only girl I especially enjoyed the interaction between the Latham daughter and her younger brothers. And then something awful happens and the tone and focus of the book changes.

Some reviewers found this jarring and are divided between whether the first or second parts of the book are better or whatever, but I have to say I thought the whole thing was quite remarkable and I cried solidly during huge chunks of this relatively short book and especially at the end. I often cry at books and films but when I talk about crying here I mean real, genuine sobbing and I felt bereft when I finished it. I have thought about it a great deal since I read it, one of those that pops into your head when you least expect it.

Some will be cynical about the whole thing, others will wonder what all the fuss was about, but I thought this was great and it was one of the top reads of my holiday, and also one of the few e-books I’ve read so far (admittedly there aren’t that many I’ve finished) that I have seriously considered getting in hard copy.

The blurb on the back of the book gave a pretty skewed impression of where this was going to put all of that out of your mind. But if you give this one a try just make sure there are tissues near at hand. I wasn’t prepared and the puffy pink eyes and running nose look is not a good one believe me!

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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