Iain Banks, 1954-2013
"It was the day my grandmother exploded."
That is my favourite first line of a novel. And a good many other people's too.
Iain Banks wrote it in the opening funeral scene of his novel The Crow Road. I almost hope there's some kind of explosion at his funeral. There certainly was when The Wasp Factory made its appearance in 1984 and launched his stellar career. Maybe they'll let off fireworks. They should; for me many of his books were like fireworks. There are other better, more profound writers, but there are few whose books I enjoy more. He is - and even though he is no longer with us, 'is' is the right word - one of my favourite authors.
Only five days ago I wrote that if I kept doing this blog I would have something to say about Iain Banks. I can hardly believe that the time has come, that his time has come, already.
Why have I got something to say? Why did I post on the Banksophilia site on the day he announced his terminal cancer? Why do I care?
It's hard to explain. Why are your favourite bands and singers your favourites? It's something personal. They speak to you. You feel a connection. The timing is important. I felt it immediately when I first read Iain Banks in 1986. At that time I was the librarian at Greenock High School; I learned later that Banks had been a pupil there when he wrote his first, unpublished novel. One Saturday I had breakfast in bed and started reading The Wasp Factory. I went into Glasgow as I had planned and carried on reading it on the train. I read it on the train back. When I got back to my flat I sat down and didn't get up again till I finished the book. Some of it is there in that first line of The Crow Road: the darkness, the humour. There was the fact that Banks wrote great science fiction as well - I loved science fiction when I was young, the same classic science fiction he loved. There was the fact that he was a Scottish writer, who often wrote about Scotland, but he didn't write like a 'Scottish' writer. Above all there was the imagination and the storytelling. I was so glad when I had the good fortune to meet him in KGS a few years ago that he didn't disappoint me; he was down-to-earth and funny. Now I'm just glad I met him at all.
So as I wrote last time, I'll be reading some of his books this summer. A few of the science fiction novels, probably Stonemouth as well. His last book, The Quarry, is published in eleven days' time. It can wait.
I promise not to write like this again. No chance of it happening anyway. My only excuse (not that I need one, it's my blog and I'll write what I want) is that if someone reads an Iain Banks novel as a result, that will be a good thing. Thank you for indulging me.
I was at a funeral yesterday. I was at a funeral last Saturday as well, in the same church and the same cemetery, with almost the same mourners. The same minister of the Free Church led both services. There wasn't a lot of joy in them, but yesterday he quoted Psalm 30 and later, at the graveside, used a phrase he derived from it: 'Let the wailing turn to dancing'. I'm no more religious than Iain Banks was, but you don't have to be religious to take meaning from the Bible. While I extend my deepest sympathy to his widow, family and friends, and I'm sad that he will not be around to share his imagination and wit with me and his other fans, the wailing will turn to dancing. Those people who knew him will have their happy memories. The rest of us will still have his books.