Stonemouth: A Novel Hardcover – Jan 15 2013
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Brilliant, irresistible, compelling. — The New York Times
Macabre and quite impossible to put down. — The Financial Times
Establishes beyond doubt that Banks is a novelist of remarkable talents. — The Daily Telegraph
About the Author
Iain Banks, whose novels have been published in over thirty languages, is a Scottish writer who writes both mainstream fiction and science fiction. In 2008, the London Times named Banks as one of the “The Fifty Greatest Writers since 1945.”
Top Customer Reviews
This was excellent as usual. I'll miss your turn of phrase. My Banks addiction will be going sadly unfulfilled.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Stewart Gilmour returns on a Friday to Stonemouth, his hometown in northeast Scotland, for the funeral of Joe Murston, an elderly man he befriended in his teen years. Stewart had been run out of town five years earlier by the Murston family for reasons that are only hinted at until the story is two-thirds done. His safe readmission to Stonemouth requires him to make nice with Joe's son Donnie, one of Stonemouth's two resident crime lords, who warns Stewart to leave no later than Tuesday and to stay away from Donnie's daughter Ellie. Stewart, of course, harbors the distant hope that it isn't quite over with Ellie and can think of nothing except seeing her again.
Stonemouth is a weekend journey of discovery. Stewart reviews the past and rethinks the present as he visits old friends and lovers. He learns the full truth (or as near to it as he will likely ever come) about the incident that caused his banishment from Stonemouth. The novel's early chapters alternate sly and amusing and tragic observations about the perils of being young with moments of unexpected tenderness. The later chapters give Stewart the chance to come to terms with his mistakes as he decides whether to let go of his past or to make it the foundation of his future.
The principle characters, and Stonemouth itself, are skillfully developed. Stewart and Ellie are particularly nuanced, but even the minor characters have personalities that transcend the stereotypes they could easily have become. Stewart has changed since leaving Stonemouth (not always in ways that suit him); Ellie is changing; the male Murstons, like the town of Stonemouth itself, resist change with the force of ... well, stone. It is the conflict between the inevitability of change and the intractability of family tradition that animates the story.
An atmosphere of danger hangs over the novel as Stewart goes about his business: a chance encounter with Ellie's flirtatious sister; a brutal encounter with Ellie's brothers; a tense encounter with a thug in a pool hall; an obligatory visit with the town's other crime boss, Mike MacAvett, and with Mike's daughter Jel, who represents a different sort of danger. Banks deftly juggles the gentleness of a love story with sudden bouts of violence, letting tension build intermittently until the story reaches a thundering climax.
Banks' strength as a science fiction author is his ability to tell an engrossing story. His strength in Stonemouth is his ability to tell an engrossing story with literary flair. If I could, I would give Stonemouth 4 1/2 stars.
In addition, as someone who moved away from my hometown I could relate to Stewart (Stu) Gilmore's feelings about returning home. (Not that I was run out of my hometown by gangsters.) Iain Banks caught the sense of returning home and finding oneself in familiar surroundings where things appear to have never changed, time never to have moved on, and yet you feel different.
I liked the way facts about Stu's life in Stonemouth were revealed and Iain's treatment of Stu's interaction with old friends and companions wrung true. His treatment of Stu's conflicting thoughts and internal reasoning about how his former girlfriend would react to him felt realistic.
The first half of the novel moved relatively slowly and I did wonder if I would have read it had it not been an Iain Banks novel. However, about halfway through it picked up the pace and I found myself not wanting to put it down. In fact, I had to force myself to put the book down at 1am on a midweek night so that I could get some sleep. (I only had twenty pages left at the time and so I finished it in Starbucks the following morning before going into work.)
Iain Banks always likes to take a shot at the establishment. The scene at the golf course presents him with this opportunity and his description of the gathering reminded me of all the recent coverage in the UK press about the "Chipping Norton Set" and the environment of collusion between politicians, agents of law and order, and those with a predilection for pursuits beyond those considered strictly legal, but all for the "better good", of course. This scene could also be taken as a "hats off" salute to the film, "Hot Fuzz", in which Bill Bailey's two characters (Sergeants Turner) are seen to be reading Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks novels, and in which a similar approach to peace keeping can be observed.
It is the first book I've read in a long time in which the ending was not a foregone conclusion. Right up until the end it could have gone any number of ways and Iain Banks did a great job of laying any number of false trails that the reader could follow. As I approached the end of the book I had at least four possible endings in mind and I was kept guessing to the last few pages.
Many reviewers have considered this book to be a disappointment for a Banks novel. I do not agree with them. While "Stonemouth" is not "The Bridge", "Walking on Glass", "The Crow Road", "Espedair Street", "Complicity", or "The Was Factory", it is still a good read with a lot to offer and a novel that would have been acclaimed had it been written by someone else.
Thank you, Iain, for another enjoyable story.
I have read more than a dozen books written by Iain (M) Banks. If this was the first book I had read by him I probably wouldn't have been eager to read any of his other books. Though there were a few redeeming factors about Stonemouth that kept me from giving it two stars instead of the three that it received. The story was good enough to keep me reading and wondering what was going to happen next, and what had happened in the past. When I finished the book Stewart seemed like a real person to me (I found myself wishing him the best of luck). There was also a conversation between Stewart and another character about how the events of the past could have happened, several of which surprised me and made prefect sense. I really liked this conversation, it was the only part that felt like I was reading a Banks book.
I found Stonemouth to be predictable and parts of the story felt awkward and forced, making the flow of the story choppy. There were times in the story that Stewart, sometimes drunk and sometimes sober, had thoughts about global warming, politics, religion and the darker side of human nature. Many books by Banks have similar subjects as an undercurrent and were done well and flowed in the story. However, in Stonemouth they sounded more like a rant and felt out of place.
The thing that bothered me most about Stonemouth was what appeared to be, for lack of a better term, a product placement for Apple computers and the iPhone. When Stewart loses his iPhone he has to replace it with what is referred to for the rest of the book as a "rubbish" phone. And Stewart comments how he can't wait to get to an Apple store to replace his good phone. When Stewart has to use his dad's computer he comments on how it felt like preschool compared to his Apple.
Three Stars but not recommended.
The feel of the novel is so markedly different that, about half way through, I even toyed with the idea that it was ghost written! But no, it's Banks alright; just a quieter and gentler Banks. Getting a bit older, Iain?
But, as always, a rollicking good yarn and well worth the read.
Then I read his novels The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale, both of which take place in contemporary Scotland. I especially like The Crow Road, which has much in common with Stonemouth. Both center on the consequences of going home again. In Stonemouth, Stewart Gilmour returns to his home town (the name of which is the book's title) to pay his respects at the funeral of an old acquaintance. That old acquaintance also happened to be the patriarch of a local crime family, and the grandfather of the girl Stewart was going to marry. Stewart returns with much apprehension because there is an old score to settle with his ex-fiancee's family, one caused by the events that led to his fleeing Stonemouth. The novel tells the story of Stewart's experience of returning to a place of lost love, bitter humiliation and genuine fear.
As is the case with The Crow Road, the strength of Stonemouth is the voice of Stewart, who narrates the novel. I found myself not only rooting for a happy ending for Stewart, but wishing I could meet up with him and have a pint or two. Warm, funny, and often suspenseful, Stonemouth is a very good novel. Highly recommended.