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2.8 out of 5 stars
The Business
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I have read all of Iain Banks novels and this one is one of my favourites.

The Business from where the book gets its name is a centuries old concern, at one point in the novel it is suggested that its history stretches back as far as the Roman Empire, but the story postulates the compelling conceit that over centuries The Business has been built up with assets and resources that go beyond countries and national powers to influence every part of the world.

Unexpectedly, at the top of The Business is a strictly meritocratic management structure, and here we come to the main story which is that of Kate who by a chance encounter on a housing estate outside Coatbridge, Glasgow, was lifted out of dire poverty to become Kathryn Telman, a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top).

I won't say much about the story, except to say it had me hooked from the very start. It keeps the reader interested by using a variety of styles, phone conversations, emails, interview extracts; but also by a globe spanning selection of locals from Texas to Tibet, Yorkshire to Geneva. When it comes to describing how the very wealthy and eccentric spend their money, Iain Banks is as ever witty and entertaining.

I think what I find compelling about this book is the character of Kat Telman, as always Iain Banks female heroines are excellent, and the overall story of not necessarily good vs evil, but greed vs the greater good. Also some interesting reflections on what makes a happy life.

Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2010
Iain Banks, once the most powerful fiction writer of his generation and author of two of my all time top 20 novels (The Wasp Factory and The Bridge), has been treading and water for many years and The Business is just more of this. Not as pointless as Canal Dreams or Dead Air, but nowhere near what he is capable of at his best.

Banks can't write badly (well at least he can't write fiction badly, lets leave it at that for now) and his ear for daft dialogue is still brilliant. The story rattles along and I was interested enough to keep going and finish it in three days. Unfortunately there is a 'but' here. It's that Banks is quite palpably making this up as he goes along and equally palpably, doesn't seem to care.

The end result is a story that lurches from one thing to another, switching plot pretty much every time it threatens to get truly absorbing, and Banks can't decide if he is writing a thriller, a Himalayan travelogue or a satirical expose of the amorality of big business. It ends up being none of the above and it was impossible to care much about the characters one way or another. I mustn't spoil things by revealing the ending, suffice to say it is daft.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 25 August 2003
The Business is a fair fairy story, at least in concept. There’s a prince seeking a princess, a Queen resigned to her bed for 25 years with a broken heart, a palace of a thousand rooms, snow-capped mountains, pied piper children, an all powerful James Bond style baddie organisation. And like any good fairy tale it tries to have a moral, arising from one hot pretext set just outside of reality. Banks lays it on thick but really fails to bridge the gap between fairy and really.
That pretext is the Business itself, founded in times before modern civilization. The problem, unusually for Iain Banks, is that there is a lack of grasp of what this story is all about. Is it a licence to discredit the misty corporate world of international business? Is it about surviving on overhwhelming capitalist power through duplicity? Is it about human relationships, disrupted intimacy, and misplaced loyalty? Or is it just about a prince seeking a princess?
By the end, there aren’t any answers. You are left feeling a little cold in the Himalayas.
But it’s just such a great idea for a book. The shame is nothing of that mysterious corporate world is uncovered. The Business has worldwide influence and domination. It’s rich and powerful. It seeks a seat at the United Nations by buying up under nourished and unknown nations. Kate is the ambitious Level Three executive at its heart. Yet most of the 400 pages are devoted to her globe trotting and excruciating detail about her in-flight experiences; buying clothes; meeting whoever….
Banks introduces some thriller tension at the start; colleague has teeth taken out by dark adversaries, Kate uncovers a Business factory hiding some dark secret, the Board are either homely uncle / aunty characters or underworld nearly gangsters. Great, but we are then subjected to a long winded “travels with Kate” until we understand any link at the very end.
You have wonder what it’s all about. Don’t be prepared to be too disappointed as Iain Banks has the undoubted and undisputed skill in writing and there’s never a word out of place, but overall it doesn't gell. Hot plot lines are introduced, and then disappear to the sidelines. Some motives never get off the ground. With a bit more discipline, this could have really rocked.
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on 8 June 2012
Though having read sixteen other Banks novels (four of which have been without the "M."), I must say that The Business is the most linear plot thus far, almost bordering on vapid when taken in its general sense like looking at a lifeless body, but its pulse can be found upon close inspection, which reveals a growing characterization of the heroine/femme fatale Kate Telman. The backdrop for Kate's growth isn't only The Business where she is employed, but it's also the entire world with financially impoverished fictional countries whose warm innocence and charm can melt the icy facade of a corporate queen.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Kate Telman is a senior executive officer in The Business, a powerful and massively discreet transglobal organization whose origins predate the Christian Church. Financially transparent, internally democratic, it want to buy its own State to gain a seat at the United Nations.

Kate's job is to keep abreast of current technological developments and her global reach stretches from Silicon Valley to the remote Himalayas. In the course of her journey Kate must peel away layers of emotional insulation and the assumptions of a lifetime. She must learn to control the world at arm's length.

To take control, she has to do The Business."

Kate was raised in western Scotland by an alcoholic and careless mother, which left Kate to find her own street-smarts while mum was away. On one fateful occurrence when she was eight years old, Kate was approached by an older lady. Kate's effortless business skills and cleverness impressed the lady, who organized a meeting with the mother. Thereafter, their lives improved with her mother getting steady jobs and Kate getting an excellent schooling--all for free. Kate was on the fast track to becoming part of The Business.

Now thirty-eight years old but still a vixen with the men, Kate has risen high on the tiers of Business control to Level Three. Her instinct for predicting trends on technology have boosts her influence within The Business and her influence isn't limited to her Level Three tier--she woos men of lesser tiers and wins the admiration of others in Levels Two and One. She finds herself slowly being enveloped in a developing Business scheme involving not only the upper Tiers of The Business, but also the heads of state for various tiny nations.

The father figure of Uncle Freddy (Level Two) cannot mention much of her place in the scheme of things, but it does take into consideration the Business's feigned interest in the island nation of Fenua Ua and the landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Thulanh. Level One Mr. Hazelton has his fingers in many Business pies and Kate will later question the motives of his grand weasel-like motions. But beneath her involvement in procuring a nation for The Business, there's something fishy going on in a chip factory under the influence of The Business. Kate can't pinpoint the odd behavior of the factory staff, but one room within draws her attention.

Her influence with other members of male Business staff in obvious with Mike... an agent who has recently had random teeth knocked out and replaced at a Parisian dentist. The circumstances are bizarre and Kate feels that he's simply a muddling fool, but will later attachment great importance to the missing molars matter. Then there's Stephen... a morally obliged man dedicated to his wife through the sacrament of marriage. Kate finds herself continually attracted to the man even though he denies all of her blatant advances. She'll eventually try to dissect the relationship when she comes into possession of a sex tape that will have a huge impact on Stephen. She treads lightly.

Unexpected external factors force Kate to internalize her own pleas for attention; reassess her place in The Business, the lives of others, and the world; and when and when not to stick to your prerogatives.

------------

When the reader is introduced to Kate, she's a powerful woman in many regards: she controls many Business operations, she is well liked by her peers, and her self-confidence is high as she struts, flirts, seduces, and lays. Her gratefulness for her rise from the slums reflects her appreciation for the job she has. Kate uses her business oriented mind to propel her through the rungs of Business hierarchy and puts little between her and her success but still maintains a loyalty to the people within the organization.

Later, through the plot twists of her personal trials and tribulations, Kate is transformed into a woman of sympathetic human action rather than materialistic gain. With a growing window of insight into others' subjective worldviews and the doors of greater responsibility knocking at her door, Kate finds herself not only at the start of her midlife crisis, but at a crossroads towards either (1) an external personal advancement in doing what is right for The Business or (2) an internal personal advancement in doing what is right for the parties involved. This change in outlook is what characterizes Kate to such a degree that she can make changes in the centuries old Business and in the budding kingdom of Thulanh.

Obviously, the science fiction element to the novel is The Business itself: pre-dating Christ, the commercial interests on the organization spans centuries and has always been financially transparent yet hermetic in allowing membership and advertising its existence. Its profits are shared among the tiers of authority (Level Six to Level One) but the individuals are unable to transfer Business-derived income to their family, thereby amputating descendant plutocracy. The Business's interest are widely varied, ranging from an ultra-exclusive cigar factory in Guantanamo Bay to investment in Hollywood movies to property investment. It's wildly interesting at first as a science fiction concept but it tapers off when the focus s shifted to the characterization of Kate. Not an all together bad switch, but a tad unfortunate.

Being one of the most non-traditional Banks-ian novels, I was expected to be baited, hooked, and reeled in but the plot plods along on a globe-trotting trek from Scotland, Nebraska, the Indian Ocean, and the fictional kingdom of Thulanh (a country similar to Bhutan). Everything is easily understandable: the characters, the locations, the cars owned by Uncle Freddy, the long history of The Business, and the movement each piece plays on the fictional global chessboard. The slowly progressive plot moved all the plot pieces and people pieces in synchronism to form a coherent conclusion but, sadly, it didn't have a drastic effect on this reader. The ultimate truth of the situation fell flat; it just wasn't spectacular enough to invest 392-pages of reading simple structure with implications spanning the entire globe... *poof* *fzzzzt* *pop*

This definitely isn't one of Bank's most delightfully convoluted novels nor one of the most intricately structured. The internal growth of the character of Kate is the apex of the novel with little else supporting the book besides the limited interest of The Business itself. Banks drops names of more fictional nations but the names are only cursory with detail only being focused on the mountainous Thulanh:

"places like Dasah, a trucial state on a small island in the Persian gulf, [...] or the Zoroastrian People's Republic of Inner Magadan, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Arctic Ocean, or San Borodin, the only independent Canary island." (51)

Like the fictional nations names, most things are cursory while Banks takes an active pleasure in describing the engines and specifications of famous sportcars and even takes a stab or two at British and American politics--these real life element fold the reader into tepid fictional plot, albeit, also, at a very cursory level. If Banks were to expand this either into a 600-page novel with more of a science fictions slant, it may have peaked at 4 stars, but there's just not much plot-point tinder under the fire to light the logs of greater interest.
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on 7 July 2012
A female hero with integrity and depth Kathryn Telman stormed through this deceptively cliched plot. Yes it's good against evil, but it's so much more.

A set piece conversation between naked capitalist and NRA extremist Jeb and steady, socialist, evangelical atheist, Kathryn had me cheering for the right side. Then only a chapter later, I'm longing to be on the deck of the cruise ship run aground for salvage, or in the Lear jet wearing quilted pyjamas ready for the Himalayan winter. This is not a prissy fable but an intelligent examination of capitalist morality.

The hero, Ms. Telman, is a winner. Having been scooped from the Glaswegian slums, she is molded into a cool, clever but never judgmental high-flying business executive. She loves her wealth but never forgets her roots or her humanity. This is what makes her a hero. In today's climate of corporate greed, dishonest dealings and weak government this novel is more relevant than ever.

If this book hasn't already been made into a film, it should be. Great visuals and excellent characterisation. I would recommend this book to all who enjoy a a little fibre in their martini.
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on 14 February 2013
I found the concept of a shady business shrouded in secrecy with far reaching global power appealing, and so started reading. Alas there's not as much made of all of this as there might be. You get only some glimpses of power struggles and politics at the higher end of this organization, so for me that appeal is not really satisfied. The main protagonist, Kate, is a failed concept. I'm completely indifferent to her, I don't like her, I don't dislike her, and don't really care what happens to her. This might be ok if her character was used as a window into lots of other more interesting concepts, but its not. Far too much of the book is dedicated to "shopping with Kate", "lunch with Kate", "Kate drives fast car", "Kate on airplane again", "Kate pines over unattainable lover". Blah blah blah. There's promise in this book, but it never delivers. It just limps over the finish line with you looking back and thinking that you really didn't engage with any of the characters, concepts, or events. There are far better books out there, I wouldn't recommend spending your time on this one.
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on 20 April 2015
I've read several of Banks' other "mainstream" novels (The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass, The Crow Road, Complicity, Whit), loved several of them and liked them all. I lost momentum and didn't get through A Song of Stone, but I found things to like in that too.

The Business was an odd disappointment. I persevered through perhaps the first two thirds trusting that at any moment it would get interesting. After that point I started to think that might not happen. It didn't. Completely un-engaging, uninteresting plot, and not even very funny, unusually for Banks.

I'd say perhaps I missed something in this book, but I suppose the fact there are only three reviews here as I write this says something for such a popular author. Iain Banks was consistent, but even he had the occasional off year.
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I had high hopes for this as I loved the blurb on the back cover, it did its job and hooked me, sadly the book itself was a let down. The first third is great, the middle really drags on (sorry but the whole visiting Thuhn/Suvinder bit had me bored senseless), and the last third is reasonably good but I was left with more questions than answers. The lead character, Kate, was passable but just a bit too wooden as a character. I have the same feeling with this as with some of Banks' other books, that it reads more like a draft than a final manuscript. Also there was just far too much in this that was predictable, nothing took me by surprise.
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on 26 August 2000
Good idea for a setting, anonymous global organisation (evoking New World Order fears without feeding readers' paranoia) with an uncertain agenda extending its already vast influence... Maybe it was a mistake to narrate through a female character. She comes across as having more balls than any of the male characters but remains as stiff as a bored member throughout. She has no real future to care about so any sense of the conflict she may encounter is impossible to convey. I spent a couple of days musing about the world Banks created for this novel but that's about all that's up for grabs.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 1999
Another excellent and very readable (too readable - I easily read it in an evening) Banks. The story is a grower - for most of the book I wasn't sure where it was heading but that just kept me reading. Quite a "light" take on the whole conspiracy theory thing - very gentlemanly behaviour from the protagonists in retrospect. However that is the nature of the business. I wonder if the business is the very seed of The Culture?
Interestingly the content is very contempary - it mentions pinochets detention in the uk for example. Its also odd reading about places that I know well - the buisness used to have offices in Blythswood square for example - just down the road from our offices...
There are two reasons that I have only given it four stars. The first is that although the attempt at a female protagonist is excellent there are one are two places where it didn't quite convince, and secondly it ended too early - although it would be interesting to have a follow up with a different character set against the events instigated by this book.
If you like Banks though rush out and buy this.
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