It's hard to pigeonhole Iain Banks. As a writer he's traversed the entire literary landscape of Scotland in every medium from science fiction through thrillers, warped social satire, and even the literary equivalent of the road movie, if you count "Raw Spirit". "Whit" has a little bit of all of the above. Its leading character is also unlike almost all other Banksian narrators: the teenage Isis Whit, brought up in a remote commune by an other-worldly religious cult, is a far cry from the cynical, dysfunctional individuals who are Banks's stock in trade. In fact she's more like a modern-day Alice exploring a Wonderland of modern technology, habitual dishonesty, sexual weirdness, and unconventional spirituality. Her breathless naivety as we follow her travels through her own wide eyes paints a remarkable picture of life in modern Britain, and colours a mystery as gripping as that of "The Crow Road" and just as enchanting. Of course, by the book's end, Isis has had to come to terms with the realisation that all is not necessarily as it seems in Paradise; she leaves us older and wiser, but not, we hope, disillusioned.
For me this is easily one of Banks' best books. It's the only one of his that you might seriously contemplate lending to your grandmother and is much more accessible to the Banks newcomer than much of his work. The mystery element which pervades the story is fascinating, making this an un-put-downable read. And there are enough searching questions about life, God and the world we live in to make this much more than just another mystery story. The quirks of Banks' writing style and the weirdness of his characters come across in the most engaging way. 450 pages will pass like they're 100.