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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An inconsistent and largely infuriating experiment in language..., 29 Feb. 2008
This review is from: A Song Of Stone (Paperback)
The setting is an ancient castle segregated and cast adrift amidst a hostile, post-apocalyptic landscape. Our characters represent the final pocket of humanity from disparate backgrounds and viewpoints, with the author choosing to look specifically at the emotional power play between three incongruent archetypes whilst, simultaneously, wrapping their plight in themes such as trust, loyalty, honesty, possession and betrayal. The use of language is exasperating throughout, with the writer using arcane plotting, evocative descriptions, poetic soliloquies, prose-like dialog, jaw-dropping phrasing and more than enough alliteration, to further sketch out the world in which these characters co-exist (whilst also developing the sense of emotional connection and understanding between our three leads). So, with all these noble and intelligently creative characteristics on display, why does The Song of Stone remain one of Banks' most infuriating and inconsistent works?

For me, the book never really got anywhere. That would be it's biggest problem. I admire Banks' desire to push the limits of what modern literature can achiever through its use of language, sentence construction and dialog that could easily be classed as poetry, but really, the narrative of this book is so slight that the whole thing could probably be dubbed style over substance. There were, of course, flashes of genius, with the book alluding to the strange relationship between the couple that own the castle and the band of marauding mercenaries that take it over... as well as some interesting ideas about loyalty and possession, in this case, both the possession of objects and the personal possession of other people. There were also a number of scenes in which Banks was able to get the drama to a dizzying degree, specifically during the huge militant banquet and our protagonist's expulsion from his own home, not least, the drive to the woods and that whole subjective final chapter. But for me, this was too little too late. The whole book seems like a slow trek up a steep hill, with Banks playing far too many games for his own enjoyment and allowing plot elements that could have metamorphosed into staggering twists and turns (ala, The Crow Road, Complicity, etc) instead become mere clichés.

There were times when the whole thing reminded me a little of Banks' better, earlier work, The Bridge, with the notion of Ian Banks venturing into the territory of Iain M. Banks, with elements of social metaphor and allusions to existentialism allowed to permeate his usual constructs of quirky characters, shocking violence and all manner of past immorality. But this too fell flat, and the whole thing took turns into routine thriller territory and even worse, melodrama. It's a crying shame really, with the use of language as previously mentioned featuring amongst the very best examples of showboating literary spectacle of the last decade. It's just a pity that the plot, characters and sub-textual emotional resonance didn't really come together until the latter half of the book. There's still enough going for it to warrant a three star rating, but this is hardly a book to clamour over. Perhaps it would make good reading fodder for those all to familiar rainy days, when there's really nothing better to do.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Aug 2009 09:51:51 BDT
Just finished the book and I would have to say that this review says it all for me. I am still a huge Banks fan (With or without the M) but I have to say that this was probably the least enjoyable in either genre. It did put me a little in mind of Inversions - the Culture novel that doesn't reveal itself as a Culture novel until near the end. Still I don't suppose that a writer can produce masterpieces like The Crow Road or Dead Air without some less successful experiments along the way.
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