Saturday, 24 November 2007

55. Whit

It is ridiculously cold in Toronto, and besides looking for a job via searching the internets, the only sane things to do must occur inside, such as cooking and reading. I haven't been cooking as much as I'd like because there have been welcome back dinners to attend, and podcasts to record, and even some Festivus shopping to be done. But luckily, I consider being on public transit being inside, and so I've been reading this Iain Banks novel rather frantically, and I just finished it this evening. I think I was trying to erase from my mind the shite that was #54 on this list and which shall not be named again.

Whit, then, by Iain Banks is book 55 of the year of counting how much I read. I was introduced to Banks a few years ago at Book City when I was in need of a new author because I was tiring of my usual suspects. Banks' The Crow Road was the one most recommended (Banks has written at least 9 novels in the adult contemporary genre, and I don't know how many science fiction novels under the very mysterious and subtle alternate name of Iain M. Banks). I really enjoyed The Crow Road, as did Brook, and I decided Banks must become a staple in my reading life. (Dead Air was excellent but Walking on Glass was pretty notably not good; Walking on Glass was one of his earliest novels though, and I wonder if he hadn't yet figured out how to completely separate Iain from Iain M. - what a mess.)

Whit was written in true Iain Banks style as the main characters all engaged in a profound amount of drinking and drug-using which still somehow seemed only incidental to what else was happening. It's also, like both Dead Air and The Crow Road, a mystery of sorts, but in this case the mystery is about the sordid truth underlying the history of a weirdo cult of pseudo-hippies in Scotland. The main character, Isis Whit (aka, the Elect of God), is sent on a mission to rescue an apostate cousin but it turns out this was just a ruse to get her out of Dodge while her jealous brother took over control of the cult.

The thing about this cult is that they eschew all modern conveniences so when Isis gets to the big city of London, many hi jinx ensue, including her filling water guns with Tabasco sauce and shooting some white supremacists in the eyes with it.

The hi jinx are all fun, but Isis as narrator wasn't always as compelling as Banks' narrators usually are. She was irritatingly self-righteous at points; simply dull in others. I understand those around her were supposed to see her this way but I figure a good author can convey that without necessarily similarly irritating the readers. I almost feel that Banks' almost vicious anti-religious message (to oversimplify the book, admittedly) took too much precedence over plot and characterization at points. Generally, however, it was a good if uneven read. It certainly hasn't turned me off reading Banks other novels in the future.

So, I may not be back for awhile - at Brook's suggestion I just picked up and will next read an exceeding fat novel, classic of the fantasy genre, by Terry Brooks. I'll let you know how that one goes when I finish it...or give up.

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