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4.0 out of 5 stars Liza-bet, do you love me ?, 25 Jun 2008
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This review is from: Espedair Street (Paperback)
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - 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'. "Espedair Street" was first published in 1987, and is his fourth non sci-fi book

Daniel Weir is a very reclusive and hugely rich former rock-star. He played bass and wrote the songs for Frozen Gold, a Scottish band that had once sold records by the lorry-load. However, the band is no more and Daniel's involvement with the music business now goes no further than the occasional TV theme or film score - something just to keep my hand in. Despite his fame and wealth, Daniel seems to suffer from very low self-esteem : he comments several times on his bulging eyes, that he has a big, hooked nose and he's very conscious of his mismatched feet. (Both are huge, though one of them is a size bigger than the other). Seeing himself as a "mutant" - and believing that he scares children - has probably contributed to the stutter. He did manage a few romantic liaisons during his time with the band, although - in his own words - he "never expected to be loved". However, while he sometimes thinks fondly of his post-fame conquests, he never seems to have fully gotten over Jean Webb, his first girlfriend.

Nevertheless, despite the distinctive look, people may not necessarily recognise him now. In the public eye, he hid behind a big beard, big hair and a big pair of shades - all are now long gone. Few probably even knew his real name - as a star, he was known only as "Weird". (It was an old nickname dating back to the schooldays, when his name appeared as "Weir, D" on the school register). Nowadays, despite the rumours that he's living abroad - most of then started by himself - he's back living in Glasgow. Home is Mr Wykes Folly, also known as St Jute's - a building that looks exactly like a church (although it isn't one) with its own graveyard (but without any actual graves). There isn't any altar wine either, but there is plenty of eastern European beer and vodka. He seems to have pretty much lost touch with his former bandmates and he tends to avoid television, papers, radio for months at a time - so, for much of the book, it isn't clear if they're in the public eye. These days, even the two people who are his closest friends - McCann and Wee Tommy - apparently don't know who he really is. McCann is quite a character - he has quite definite communist tendencies, and after a number of beers has been known to enjoy a fight.

Two of the band's other members were (ahem) instrumental to the group's success - Crazy Davey Balfour and Christine Brice, the band's stars who shared the singing. Davey was everything Daniel wasn't - his dream was to be a real guitar hero, he owned all the flash cars, the big bikes and the planes. When Daniel first meets the band, he's fresh out of school and looking for someone just to perform his songs - he doesn't want to be in the group himself. The others, on the other hand, are making plans for university - though only the bass player follows through on that plan, amusingly going to music college. (Banks has another little joke, in casting the band's drummer as the most normal and sensible member of the group). Anyhow, with a free slot, Daniel also steps in as the band's bassist. When they subsequently sign for ARC Records, the songwriting credits for the first album are nevertheless split three ways. (However, he made sure they were credited to himself alone on future albums - the only intelligent decision he reckons he ever made).

As "Espedair Street" opens, it's 3am and Daniel is sitting at home waiting on a train arriving in Glasgow. Although the last twelve years have seen his life change more than he would ever have thought possible, the events of the last week have seen him decide to kill himself. Only for the day just gone, he might well have gone through with his decision - although his survival has been accompanied by what he calls "genuine financial suicide". The book sees him look back over what has happened - professionally, personally and romantically.

"Espedair Street" is definitely a book I'd recommend - which is hardly a surprise, given that it's been written by Iain Banks. Banks has a certain way of telling a story I enjoy - the occasional jump back and forward, and the hint of looking at something from a slightly different angle. Various things are mentioned early in the book - for example, The Great Contra Flow Smoke System and the Three Chimneys Tour - but it's quite some time before he fully explains what they were. Daniel, himself, I found to be a funny and rather endearing character - but one with a very low sense of self-worth. (He's not entirely sure he ever fully recovered from his Catholic guilt). Excellent stuff.
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