Iain Banks first novel, The Wasp Factory, was published in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume 'Iain M. Banks'. He's also seen this book, "The Crow Road", adapted for television by the BBC in 1996. At the time, I was only vaguely aware of Banks - however, having stumbled across and enjoyed the BBC's adaptation, I was determined to pick the book up as well. I'm glad I did - as much as I can remember enjoying the show, I think I enjoyed the book more.
The Crow Road's central character is a young Scot called Prentice McHoan. A Star Wars fan as a boy, he's given up his attempts to master the force and now studies history at university in Glasgow. It would be fair to say, however, that he has more interest in alcohol, drugs and sex in general and the beautiful Verity Walker in particular. Prentice's key relationship, however, is probably the one he has (or, more accurately, doesn't have) with his father, Kenneth. Rather than Glasgow, most of the story takes place in and around his home village of Gallanach - visits home are fairly regular for various parties and funerals. Most of the supporting cast is made up of his own family, the Urvills and the Watts (friends to the McHoans over several generations). Fergus Urvill is not only Kenneth's brother-in-law, but also a lifelong friend. (Very good friends, in fact, based on the amount of abuse they give each other). As boys, Kenneth and Fergus were also friendly with Lachy Watt, an uncle of some Prentice's best friends : Ashley, Dean and Darren.
Due to a falling out with Kenneth, Prentice usually stays with his Uncle Hamish when he comes back to Gallanach - the rift between Kenneth and Prentice being caused by a difference of opinion over religion. However, not only is Uncle Hamish certain there is a God, he's also invented his own faith. Another uncle, Rory, an author and television presenter, hasn't been seen in 8 years - some believe him to be dead. Prentice, meanwhile, has a suspicion he's still alive while Kenneth seems strangely sure of it. The curiosity about where he is and what has happened to him simmers in the background until Prentice tries to find out what really happened to him.
The sections of the book that focus on Prentice are told from his point of view ("when I started to understand the lyrics of a Cocteau Twins song, I knew I was wrecked"). The remainder is told in 'flashback', about various different family members, and is written about them ("It was the last time Kenneth ever saw Rory"). I found it a little strange to begin with, but - once used to it - I found it really added to the enjoyment of the book. I'd look on it as less of a story, and more of a book about a group of people that strange and / or funny things happen to. That may sound a little strange, but it's a hugely enjoyable book and one that I would highly recommend.