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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite The Crow Road, but....
I must say I was a little shocked by some of the negative reviews of this novel because I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I'm a long-time Banks reader and, though I don't much like his SF, his literary fiction always gives me something to think about.

True, it's not as good as some of his earlier novels, but I found myself liking the protagonist, Alban, very...
Published on 24 Mar 2007 by Mike Fazey

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is the subtext a bit too heavy-handed? Discuss...
I've read more than half of Iain Banks's regular novels (as opposed to Iain M Banks's science fiction work) and although I enjoyed this book, I would have to say that the story would be a little bit leaden if it weren't for the author's well-crafted plotting. Which is to say that it's an unexciting story told with the skill of a page-turner.

The central...
Published on 22 July 2007 by Amazon Customer


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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite The Crow Road, but...., 24 Mar 2007
By 
Mike Fazey (Perth, Western Australia) - See all my reviews
I must say I was a little shocked by some of the negative reviews of this novel because I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I'm a long-time Banks reader and, though I don't much like his SF, his literary fiction always gives me something to think about.

True, it's not as good as some of his earlier novels, but I found myself liking the protagonist, Alban, very much. He's a kind of black sheep who has all but abandoned the family business, but finds himself enmeshed in the debate about the proposed American buy-out as an advocate for not selling. For Alban, who owns so few shares that his voting power is virtually irrelevant, it's a matter of principle. Alban is very much a lefty and resents the commercial imperialism of the Americans. That resentment comes to the fore near the end of the book, when he lets fly at one of the (admittedly stereotypical) American executives about everything he hates about American politics and foreign policy. It's not subtle, but it adds a political dimension to the way you interpret the book. Indeed, you could read it as a leftist political statement against US imperialism - at least partly.

Interlaced with the business stuff is the family stuff, notably Alban's obsession with his cousin Sophie. Yes, a little soapy, but I found it quite fascinating. The family story is told through narrative that jumps backwards and forwards in time. Time-jumping can be annoying if not done well, and I think Banks does it well enough here. I didn't find it obtrusive or confusing. For me, it progressively built layers of complexity that illuminated the family dynamics.

Certainly the novel has its flaws, but nonetheless, I think it's Banks' best effort since Complicity.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is the subtext a bit too heavy-handed? Discuss..., 22 July 2007
I've read more than half of Iain Banks's regular novels (as opposed to Iain M Banks's science fiction work) and although I enjoyed this book, I would have to say that the story would be a little bit leaden if it weren't for the author's well-crafted plotting. Which is to say that it's an unexciting story told with the skill of a page-turner.

The central character is a young man called Alban who is struggling vainly to come to terms with the failure of his adolescent first love about 20 years after the event. He has a girlfriend and some colourful friends but he remains obsessive about Sophie. She is his first cousin and so their secret summer of love in the Eighties was doomed when their family found out and she was condemned to exile in a Spanish boarding school.

This love story is told in flashback at a time when Alban's wealthy family, which owes its riches to a board game devised by Alban's grandfather, is coming together from around the world to consider a buy-out of the family firm by a large American company. And so of course Alban and Sophie are set to meet for the first time in several years.

There are a number of questions that drive the plot forwards. What happened between Alban and Sophie in the intervening years? Will they reunite or will Alban stay with the far more interesting Verushka, nicknamed VG? Is the family protecting the truth behind Alban's mother's sudden suicide when he was a small boy? And will Alban convince his family to keep its identity and reject the lure of millions of dollars from the Spraint Corporation?

There's an undisguised subtext here. This is a book about a board game called Empire! which is a game of global domination. The family has built an empire of its own - including the eponymous stately family home Garbadale - on its proceeds and now another even more voracious empire - an American one - is seeking to gobble it up. Alban stands in the middle, not proud of his family's empire-building but wholly opposed to that of the Americans.

And in case you missed the point, Alban ultimately spells it out with a left-wing tirade against America's invasion of Iraq. There's no question of this being a debate - it's something of a Michael Moore-style polemic, which Alban, and by extension Mr Banks, admits is a little self-indulgent. But as Alban/Banks reflects, where else is he going to get an opportunity to air his views in front of so many people? So, while I'm glad to say the loose ends are all tied up and the story has a satisfying conclusion, albeit featuring a fairly unremarkable twist, the big question that's thrown up by the book is: should an author be excused for shoe-horning his political beliefs into a love-story-slash-family-saga where they don't belong? On the one hand, the novel is his mouthpiece, his chance to change people's minds about something he believes in. As it happens, I share his views. But on the other hand, if his views upset or annoy his readership, he'll inevitably have fewer readers next time round.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, but not one of Banks' best., 1 Mar 2007
By 
There's a lot to like about 'The Steep Approach to Garbadale'. Banks is on typically fine form with his prose, characters and juxtaposed situations, and the book is poignant, funny and exciting.

Were this a novel by a 'lesser' author, I'd probably finish there - and conclude saying it's well worth the asking price, and a great read.

However, we know that Banks is capable of a lot more, and this book seems 'light' in comparison to some of his meatier work. His plot is expertly crafted initially - his interleaved characters, timeframes and the presence of mysteries yet to be uncovered make it an enthralling read. Sadly however, the resolution and denouement does not really compare to the build up, and he seems to leave parts of his story dangling. Perhaps he's attempting to break his reputation as a writer who specialises in 'twist' endings, but in that case - why go to such lengths to build suspense if the revelation isn't up to it?

The book is also marketed as being about games, with the family in question being in charge of a 'monopoly' or 'risk' style boardgame that is worth millions. This aspect of the story may be attributable to Banks' publicised fascination with the 'Civilisation' computer game - but it does make the book slightly frustrating as well. There's not much game-orientated stuff going on - the occupation of the family business turns out to be largely incidental to the plot.

Finally, there are some unusual stylistic quirks which, unusually for Banks, seem to be in-jokes or asides rather than important elements. For example it's possible that this reviewer didn't get the implications, but having 10 pages or so of a book written in the first person by an incidental character gives what would normally be a throwaway scene decoration undue weight - which appears to have no consequence on the resolution of the book.

In conclusion, an excellent read full of wit, verve and style featuring expertly constructed characters, but a little bit unfulfilling in the conclusion.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And yet...., 6 July 2009
I am huge Banks fan; I have read every single book that he has written and enjoyed them all, obviously to a greater or lesser degree. There is no author whose works I look forward to more. And yet...

Every single idea in this book has been done before and better by Banks himself. Taking ideas from The Crow Road, Song of Stone, The Business and various of his SF novels, he spins a story that I just could not find interesting. I have never before found it hard to keep reading in a Banks novel but...

I am so sorry Iain but I just couldn't enjoy this one. I did enjoy Matter though and I am looking forward to Transition.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not one of his best - but still very worthwhile, 2 Sep 2008
A British family company, the Wopulds, built its fortune on a board - then later a computer - game called Empire. Now they are considering selling it off to the Americans. This can be seen as Banks building a sort of elaborate metaphor for Britain as the faded former imperial power and the world's policeman, with that role now being taken over by the Americans.

The main character of the novel - Alban Wopuld - seems a typical Banks character, a person getting older but seemingly incapable of growing up, begins in a form of self-imposed exile from the family business, but is bought back into the bosom of his family to help decide whether they will indeed sell out to the Americans.

Alban's obsession with a brief fling with his cousin during his teenage years is another sign of his inability to let go of his idealistically nave teenage years when it all seemed so simple to him - us against them. Alban's cousin - surely a link to the British/American special relationship where both countries regard each other and even call each other `cousins' - Sophie, eventually moves to and becomes American. Plastic surgery is hinted at as her way of becoming even more American. The more American she becomes, the wider the gap between Alban and Sophie becomes. He loved her and believed that she loved him - a sort of special relationship, indeed.

The British Empire theme is further explored by having Alban wandering the globe and fetching up in various outposts of the former Empire, especially Hong Kong.

Alban is a self-proclaimed lefty. However, one who took business studies and then the corporate shilling - an analogy of `New Labour', perhaps - working for the family firm, before resigning in a fit of moral indignation. Finally working as a lumberjack - maybe as a form of atonement - before damage to his hand forces him out of that and back to confront his family.

Alban is - of course - deeply suspicious of the Americans, the potential buyers of the family firm - and their claim to understand the `culture' of the British company/Empire and to be standing for the same civilising values that the British once claimed for themselves. For example, near the end of the novel his rather trite anti-American ranting that would be embarrassingly skipped over when come across in a Grauniad CiF comment. It is the sort of behaviour typical of the teenage/young adult rant given by middle-class students who want to adopt the pose of the left-wing radical. Alban also spouts some of the left wing always good, right wing always bad, banalities that almost - at times - turn him into the clichéd middle-class lefty.

Many of the other characters seem crudely drawn too. For example, Win, Alban's grandmother as a crude caricature of Margaret Thatcher seen through from a distorting left-wing perspective.

Maybe Alban's failure to prevent the literal `sell-out' to the American's and his empty futile and cliché-ridden diatribes against the American's are Banks' acknowledgement - consciously or unconsciously - that the Left is dead - a complete failure, as philosophically and moral bankrupt as it is politically.

The novel features some brief first person interludes, at the beginning and end, by a character called Tango with whom Alban seems to spend his time, maybe represents the society created by Alban's beloved Left in Scotland, welfare dependents existing in a drug and takeaway fuelled nihilistic squalor.

[Possible spoiler]

By the end of the book, Alban no longer lives in the squalor, sleeping on Tango's floor where we first found him. He lives off in the posh part of the town, alone, but in a vague relationship with his academic girlfriend, which is another sign of the character's inability to mature into something more substantial. The connection with Tango and his pals, has not entirely been severed, though, but Alban only occasionally visits, or is visited by Tango and his cronies (only on their best behaviour), which in the end is quite symbolic of the relationship between the remains of the Left - middle-class and insular - and the people they once purported to represent.

[End possible spoiler]

Not one of Banks' best novels, but, however, that still puts this head and shoulders above a great deal of contemporary fiction and is - I think - well worth a read - recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The long slow approach To Garbadale, 21 Jan 2012
By 
Lendrick (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
It been a while since I picked up an Iain Banks with much anticipation - in fact it's been a while since I picked one up at all. But there is always the hope that he can return to his best form, and the quotes on the cover gave some substance to that hope.

It starts pretty well, typical Banks elements, sex, drugs, dynastic family, feisty but sexy women outsider protagonist and hints of dark secrets in the past. All set up for a family reunion to discuss a US takeover of the family firm at the remote Scottish pile that is Garbadale. All enjoyable and promising.

Trouble is precious little happens over the next 150 pages or so, a few more flashbacks, a bit more information on what we have already been told, but little dramatic tension or plot development, but too much of Alban, the main character, simpering over his teenage love. At points I was forcing myself to pick it up, only the hope of a satisfactory resolution once the family gathered kept me going.

When we eventually get to Garbadale the climax (if it can be called that) is perfunctory, with the central revelation pretty predictable. While like most of his recent works it get bogged down in Banks putting political speeches into the mouths of the characters.

I had quite warmed to Alban early on, but by the end when he is lecturing some paper thin American `character' about Iraq I'd entirely gone off him. As for the heavy handed metaphors about empire and American Imperialism - they are just that - heavy handed.

Part of the problem is Banks just doesn't seem to have moved on as author - like me he is in his 50s - yet he is still writing about 30ish outsiders reconciling themselves to their elders, and as if anyone over 60 is somewhat odd.

More fundamentally though, in his desire to push his political views (which in general I agree with) he seems to have forgotten how to spin a good yarn.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 23 May 2008
This is the first Iain Banks book I have read. Like other reviewers Nothing much grabbed to start with but I always like to persevere with these things. I found the main character fairly likeable but again like other reviewers found a lot of the content a bit pointless.

Having said that I did feel that the book was leading to something good but (and it is rare for me to get these things right) I had already guessed what the twist was fairly early on. It seemed almost too obvious which is why I persevered to find out what the outcome was going to be.

All in all, disappointing. I am assured by friends that his other books are excellent reads but based on this I am reluctant to give them a shot
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging and colourful story of family and wealth, 7 Jan 2008
"The Steep Approach to Garbadale" is the latest literary novel by Iain Banks. Alban, exiled son of the wealthy Wopuld family, has been invited back into the fold for a crucial meeting at the family's Highland retreat (the Garbadale of the title). For several generations the Wopulds have made their fortune in producing the boardgame "Empire!", but now an American corporation wants to buy them out. Alban plans to attend this meeting, not only to voice his opposition to the sale, but also because at this congregation - perhaps the last which will involve the whole family - he may be able to find from them answers to questions he has held long in his mind. What is the truth behind his mother's suicide over thirty years ago? And what are his true feelings for Sophie, his cousin and first love?

The story is divided between two main timeframes, through which Banks explores the complex web of characters - each one colourful and many of them eccentric - which make up the far-flung Wopuld family. The first of these timeframes takes place in the present, as Alban attempts to rally the family against the American takeover bid. The second takes the reader through various episodes from Alban's past, including his teenage tryst with Sophie. Both are woven together seamlessly and skillfully, in a way which does not disrupt the narrative.

Indeed on the whole Banks' style flows well and is easy to read. His command of detail in each scene is excellent and it is possible for the reader to feel fully immersed in every new setting - and there are many, from Alban's childhood home at Lydcombe, Somerset, to exotic Hong Kong, sweltering Singapore, and the hilly environs of Garbadale House. In addition, Banks is expert at capturing on page the raw emotion and humanity of his characters (the intensity of Alban's summer affair with Sophie stands out in particular) but is also able to do humour at the same time, something which is evident in the fast-paced and consistently good dialogue.

This is not to say that the book is without its faults. Firstly, the resolution feels somewhat rushed and in many ways too neat for the complicated network of familial relationships that Banks spends the book depicting. Also, though the majority of the book is narrated in the third person, there is also, confusingly, an occasional first-person narrator known as 'Tango', who appears in only three short sections and has apparently very little relevance to the story.

These small points aside, however, "The Steep Approach to Garbadale" is a very good and engaging book, and one that I can easily recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iain Banks back on familiar ground. Board games, familial strife, wealth, low-life, and 1000/spoon honey all set in Scotland, 25 July 2014
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I have read all of Iain Banks books, and this book the Steep Approach to Garbadale returns to some of his favourite themes, board games, excessive wealth, and scotland.

The hero of this story is Alban who was born into wealth as part of the Wopuld clan, but has turned his back on a world he felt where he never belonged due to his mother's suicide.

I won't say much about this story. I really liked the main character Alban and his low-life lifestyle drinking cheap bear and eating chips in a glasgow high-rise, but I also liked the way he moved seamlessly back into the other world of chauffeured cars, grand luxury stately homes, and 1000/ spoon honey. I also like the Game Empire, on which the family's wealth is built.

I know it all sounds a bit silly, but the book is very entertaining, and a lovely journey into someone else's rather fantastical life. This book grabbed me from the start and kept me reading.Lots of interesting international backdrops, wonderful family feuding and a fortune to play for. I certainly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Middle of the Road on the Steep Approach..., 12 Aug 2008
By 
Displays the range of Banks' skills - well-plotted, dialogue heavy, recurrent themes of familial taboo and the odd dose of authorial politics intruding on the fiction. Certainly held my attention and demanded to be finished (in a good way). But, ultimately, there is nothing breath-taking about The Steep Approach to Garbadale, and the analogies, metaphors and revelations all feel fairly shallow.
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The Steep Approach to Garbadale
The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain M. Banks (Paperback - 5 Oct 2007)
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