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4.3 out of 5 stars
Whit
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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. "Whit" is his eighth non-sci-fi book, was first published in 1995 and comes with the subtitle "Isis Amongst the Unsaved".
The book's central character is Isis Whit, commonly called Is - though more formally known as Blessed or Beloved Isis. Isis is a Luskentyrian, a member of a religious sect founded by her grandfather, Salvador. Like him, she is very important to the faithful - she holds the position 'Elect of God' and is a future leader of the Luskentyrians. Home is High Easter Offerance - located in Scotland, on the banks of the River Forth. The book opens in May 1995, when Isis is nineteen years old and with the Festival of Love approaching. The Luskentyrians consider people born on the 29th of February very special - the Blessed Isis herself was born on that date. As a result, a Festival of Love is held every four years - at the end of May in the year preceding a Leap Year. As the end of May is nine months before the end of February and it is a Festival of Love, I'm sure you can figure out what happens at it...
Isis' cousin, Morag - while not strictly considered a missionary - has been living in London for six years. Based on her letters, it appears she has become a successful musician - an internationally renowned baryton soloist, no less. She had been due to return to High Easter Offerance for the festival, where she would have been the Guest of Honour. However, her most recent letter to the community includes the news that she has turned her back on her faith and will not be returning. One possible option was for Isis to take Morag's place as guest of Honour - something she wasn't entirely keen on. Instead, Isis is sent to London to try and rescue her cousin - the book tells the story of her journey and return.
This is only the second book by Banks I've read, the first being "The Crow Road". Like it, I found "Whit" to be very enjoyable. It's told entirely from Isis' point of view - she describes her journey, outlines her discoveries, explains her beliefs and tells the history of her sect. Luskentyrians avoid modern technology as far as possible - nothing at High Easter Offerance runs on electricity, for example. It's amusing, at times, to see her reaction to life in the 'modern' world. There are several very strong supporting characters - Yolanda, Isis' very colourful and hugely entertaining Texan grandmother, particularly stands out. The only disappointment is that some of them didn't make a bigger appearance. Highly recommended !
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2001
Banks does an excellent job here of turning what is in essence a simple story into a fascinating and enjoyable journey. Isis is supremely-well depicted, the events richly and vividly portrayed, and some of the characteristics of those involved so believeable that you could not help but feel real empathy (or disdain, depending on who it was) for the main players.
But it is at the higher levels where you find the true value of this book, because it forces open even closed minds on the trickiest of subjects, introducing it as it does in a dismarming, balanced, entertaining and unprejudiced way, lightly tugging at one's conscience and provoking a very considered personal response.
Cleverly done, as one would perhaps expect, but nonetheless both entertaining and rewarding throughout, and well worth the read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2004
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I have read all of Iain Banks novels and I read Whit first of all when it was first published in 1986. I re-read it over the weekend to write this review.

Whit is a very whimsical story, and is a great escape. It is set in the lowlands of Scotland, this time close to Sterling where in an old mansion house, a christian sect led by Salvador Whit live out a peaceful communal idyll.

The story is about Isis Whit who is Salvador's granddaughter, who is set a mission to track down her cousin Morag who left the community a few years before to pursue a career in London as a concert musician. I don't want to say much about the story, but just to say it starts as a road movie with Isis trying to make her way to London without using any conventional means of transport and in compliance with the arcane rules of her cult's faith.

The second half becomes a bit scary as the cult turns against Isis, ultimately the mystery of Morag is resolved and the story works its way to a satisfactory ending.

This is a laugh-out-loud, feel-good book. It includes surprise revelations, wacky millionaire aunts and some truly amazing mixed influence cooking: bridie samosa, channa neeps, black pudding bhaji and saag crowdie paneer.

Recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2002
Isis is the central figure in a small, Amish-like family cult in a remote part of Scotland.
She is sent out on a quest into the wider world to find a cousin who has disappeared, and begins a voyage of discovery about herself, the cult and its various members. Her most significant revelations, however, occur after she returns home.
This story is quirky and amusing with delightfully empathetic characters, and a lightness of touch in the writing. It's not a simple or facile tale though and it'll keep you thinking long after you finish it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2011
Yes I liked this..... a novice IB reader and only the 3rd of his books I have read.... As any IB reader will have found they are all so different and I think that's what makes them so readable. I wont give the plot away as some reviewers do but will make this short and sweet! I enjoyed the naive but strong main character ,loved the language and her Quaint ways and words...... I actually didn't want to put the book down which is unusual for me...so yes give it a go!
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on 12 May 2015
Quite Iain Banks' best novel, in my opinion. It's a brilliantly written laugh-out-loud romp as the lovely, clever but naive Isis Whit sets off on an epic journey to coax her cousin Morag back into the strict religious community in which the book is set, only to find Morag is perfectly happy making very, very pornographic movies and loads of money into the bargain. I challenge any red-blooded male not to fall in love with Isis as she brings this exciting and brilliantly crafted book to a nail-biting cliffhanger of a finish. Mercifully absent is the bleakness and the relentless, political ideology and dogma that hinders (and pads) so many of Banks' novels unless, of course, you are lucky enough to be a sado-masochist and dedicated Marxist. Whit is a great read. Sadly, after re-reading it recently and enjoying it just as much second time around, I bought and read Banks' semi-autobiographical epilogue, The Quarry. I have never felt so let down by a favourite author.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 August 2006
Without doubt the funniest Iain Banks book I have read to date and very different to the others. This is a great twist on the old innocent abroad yarn with the naive yet wise Isis Whit out to save her cousin from the clutches of the corrupt world and resolve the power struggles within her increasingly fractious community. In itself it doesn't sound much but you'll laugh out loud more than once and you'll marvel at another dazzling and beguiling tale from Iain Banks.

Ideal starter for those who are yet to take a trip into the Banks imagination, but also a welcome diversion off the dark path of his other novels for those who are already blooded by The Wasp Factory, Complicity and so on. Female friends of mine who have read his books all seem to rate this one as their favourite as it has a strong female lead and all the blokes are secondary characters and are largely buffoons and stooges for Isis. A cracking read with more than a few twists to keep those pages turning.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 1998
With 'Whit' Iain Banks has produced a very good novel. It gave me hours of pleasure to read. The story combines a mystery with comedy and does so very effectively. In this respect it is rather different from Iain Bank's other books. I hope he writes another similar book soon. It is easily one of his best works to date! If Iain Banks should read this, perhaps he would consider bringing back the main character in another story.
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on 10 September 2013
I have to come clean and admit to being a huge Iain Banks fan. His books do not fit any one genre and are just storytelling at its best. Whit doesn't disappoint and the you get a story unfolding with the usual mix of Bank's commentary on society. Obviously if you are a kindred spirit to Banks then you will find this more satisfying.
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