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on 20 September 2007
The only Iain Banks novel I've completely given up on was Feersum Endjinn, which I thought was completely unreadable. The Steep Approach To Garbadale has tested my patience, though, and been a bit like banging my head against a wall - it was great when I stopped.

I've read or heard that this was originally supposed to be a novel told in different voices, but that wiser heads prevailed. Now there are just a few first person passages from a minor and not too bright character called Tango who has the dubious, patronising distinction of "thinking" in grocer's apostrophe's. Instead there's a non-linear narrative which seems to try to compensate for the lack of plot by shuffling events according to a vague sense of the emotional development of one of the characters.

The backdrop for what little story there is deals with a Scottish family whose unconvincingly vast wealth and international business is based on a board game called "Empire!", an obvious analogue of "Risk!". An evil American games empire wants to make a generous offer for the copyright. High drama indeed!

The notional plot trails thirty-ish dilettante hero Alban McGill back and forth in time as he worries about his mother's death and his taboo love for a cousin - incest cropping up again in a Banks "literary" novel - while as in The Crow Road a stalwart proper girlfriend waits for his romantic delusion to die. Alban is irritating, self-obsessed and pointless. He sells his shares in the family firm to fund an extended later-life Gap Year while he worries about personal problems that have the depth and credibility of a Dawsons Creek storyline, then becomes a busybody advising everyone else in the family not to do the same.

I know I'm in trouble when I start skim-reading pages of a book, as I'm obviously ast-forwarding to the end. I also know a book's in trouble when what I'm skipping is the roll-call as people arrive for a family reunion, as if dreaming up lists of names is an acceptable alternative to generational family story-telling.

I suspect I shouldn't criticise when I'm hardly a former 1993 Best Of British novelist myself, but I've paid my entry fee, and I'm sure Mr Banks has been well-enough compensated to withstand my withering observations. This is certainly the least of his contemporary novels, and way below the bar set by most of his science fiction. I look forward to a return to form.
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on 24 May 2008
There are a lot of similarities between this book and Banks' earlier work "The Crow Road". That's not a bad thing since that book was probably his best. The protagonist of this story is one Alban McGill a member of the Wopuld family and business empire, although Alban has distanced himself from the family firm. The narrative flits easily between events in the present and events in Alban's past with an emphasis on Alban's relationship with his cousin Sophie and the suicide of his mother.

The overriding story arc is governed by the two questions - Why did his mother commit suicide? And what are Alban's feelings for Sophie? The characters are as always well delineated with enough back story to make them real without needing pages and pages of exposition. As with "The Crow Road" the enjoyment of reading is in the main just wanting to know what happens to these people and Alban in particular.

The final twist is typical of Banks and if you have read much of his other fiction you should be able to guess it. He also manages to give his characters a few good rants at some of Banks' usual targets - religion and politics - which could detract form some peoples enjoyment but personally I like my protagonists opinions to reflect the author's views particularly if they match my own.

When the end comes it is rather abrupt - I would have liked to know a little more about what happens to these people. Aside from that, and an unusual series of interjections by a Scots accented first person character which seemed a bit unecessary, there is not much to fault.

Another very readable and enjoyable book from one of the best storytellers writing today.
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on 25 July 2014
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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on 10 March 2007
As any fan of Iain Banks will probably have already gathered from the synopsis, there's not a great deal new in The Steep Approach To Garbadale. It's another family saga in the style of The Crow Road - one with hidden secrets, black sheep, unexplained deaths and illicit affairs that are left unspoken and buried in the past. Mixed in with this - since the family in question are the Wopulds whose family business has expanded from the 'Risk'-like board game 'Empire!' to computer game derivations - you get some mild satire of the corporate affairs of The Business.

Alas, although neither The Crow Road nor The Business are the heights of Banks' output (not even of the non-M variety), if this new novel had even had a fraction of their limited wit and imagination, it wouldn't be the slog it is. The plot is pedestrian stuff that is centred around the gathering of the Wopuld family at the ancestral home at Garbadale to consider an offer of a buy-out from an American firm, where Alban hopes he will meet his cousin Sophie again - a childhood romance forbidden by his relatives who have kept them apart in the intervening years. This hasn't prevented Alban carrying a torch for her, endlessly, mushily and tediously in flashback throughout the entire length of the novel.

There are a few wonderful flashes of Banks humour and harmless satire (albeit as toothless as Dead Air) - in the American version of 'Empire!', the map is reconfigured to show the USA at the centre and it is renamed 'Liberty!'. More often and out of the blue however, he goes overboard into loony rant mode on American foreign policy which, directed as it is at an American company executive at a business meeting, is more than a little pointless and misguided. One wishes however that Banks could find a more appropriate novelistic situation for this understandable ire (and 'Dead Air' wasn't it either), as properly targeted it would be much more relevant than this cosy substandard soap-opera material he is currently writing.

The Steep Approach To Garbadale is mostly made up of Alban's moping over Sophie, a lot of dull family chatter at dinner tables, weak jokes and a "scandal" involving illicit family liaisons whose revelations are so predictable and well-signposted that they will come as no surprise to any reader who makes it through to the rather botched ending. The sad decline continues...
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on 16 February 2014
I think there must be something about Iain Banks, for better or worse, which just clicks with me as a reader. I say this because I have read a number of reviews of his books on this site, and from the sound of it he is nothing if not controversial. I know a lot of people didn't enjoy this offering but, I have to say, I did.

However what I would say about The Steep Approach is that the title is appropriate. The story is about the approach, far more than the finish line. This book is a journey which ends with a conclusion which I, personally, found underwhelming. It followed the same signature Banks formula of having a big reveal at the end. However, unlike The Wasp Factory, the reveal doesn't, however big, overwhelm or add to the story which leads up to it. Instead I more enjoyed the tale, past and present, of the characters. Banks is an engaging writer, I found myself constantly wanting to keep reading based only on his description, his words, his storytelling.

I would recommend other books which represent him better before reading this, true. But if you're a Banks fan I would give The Steep Approach a chance. It's wonderfully told and charmingly presented, with a handful of plot threads which keep interest and are memorable throughout, as well as after completing reading.
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on 15 September 2013
This is a tale of growing up; boyhood to manhood, in a setting of a very successful family business about to be bought out by a US company. Alban is something of a misfit in the firm and his early life is dominated by his unrequited adolescent love for his cousin Sophie which was thwarted by adults after they'd been caught in a compromising situation in the long grass one summers afternoon.

Eventually through the course of the book Alban finds his direction and on the way uncovers some hidden truths about his own past which some older members of the family were trying to protect him from. As usual Iain Banks uses the novel to expound his own political (left wing) views and life philosophy, which I enjoy hugely in a lazy, self affirming kind of way. As another reviewer notes, I ended up really caring about Alban and what happens to him. I found his reflections on abandoning corporate life quite unsettling.
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VINE VOICEon 8 October 2012
I'm an Iain M Banks fan who has just started to read his more conventional novels as well. Banks science fiction writing is dazzling and imaginative and I think most of it is superb , but what of this novel and its more mundane concerns ? "The Steep Approach to Garbadale" is a tale about a sort of black sheep of a wealthy family,Alban, who gets brought back into the fold as the family call a meeting of its members to discuss the sale of the family business to an American corporation. Interspersed with this story is the tale of Alban's infatuation with his cousin Sophie with whom he had a torrid ,adolescent fling decades earlier. The narrative weaves the two storylines together with the liberal use of flashbacks as the complex and difficult familial relationships are outlined. The novel reaches its climax in the family meeting at Garbadale and there is a dramatic ending to the story as Alban discovers some sordid secrets that were probably best left untold. This novel is very well written and is fascinating to read , but it was by no means a page turner and the plot wasn't particularly exciting. It is an interesting tale although most of the characters aren't exactly likable ,especially the main protagonist,Alban. I will certainly continue to work my way through the Iain Banks back catalogue having read this book. He is definitely my kind of writer.
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on 14 July 2016
If you are keen to have people describing their dreams to you, at length, and if your pleasure is heightened if the dreams are much influenced by the drugs that Iain Banks finds so indispensible, then you will love this book. It reveals, for instance that after taking certain hallucinatory substances, cockroaches appear to be the size of rats, even small cats. Fascinating? However if you are one of those boring people like me for whom neither drugs nor the dreams of others are of great interest, then leave it alone. As a Banks fan, after the first three chapters or so I could see the rest coming, social misfits and their relatives squabbling over money while off their heads, and abandoned this book. I strongly suspected it was about to become as boring as The Quarry, Banks' last and undoubtedly worst book, and life is too short to be wasted reading more rubbish like that. Amazing that the same pen could produce "Whit".
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on 9 March 2007
I have been a huge Banks fan since someone gave me a copy of The Wasp factory not long after its release. Every book I then eagerly awaited and read with the same anticipation and joy as hearing a all time favourite band bring out their next album.

Everytime Banks released a book he just seemed to get better and better and a real voice for my and his own generation right up to and including The Crow Road.

The problem is, I have now grown up and although Iain is the same age, he still seems to be writing as if its still the early 90's and still for people still in their 20's and 30's. I feel I have just left him behind, lost him on the road to middle age..

The thing I most and, it now looks unfortunately, used to love Banks for was his twists, turns and outright surprises. With this work, from about a quarter of the way in, I could tell you every twist and turn and every character development that was going to happen. It was all so obvious and, I thought I would never say this about Banks, so cliché.

In closing. A enjoyable enough read but nowhere near the very high standards that Banks used to set himself and indeed his readership..
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on 22 April 2007
This is Banks return to writing after his self- imposed break and sadly it shows. It is good, worth a read, though if new to Banks I wouldn't start here, Crow Road is so much better. This book reminds me of a re-hashed Crow Road, as though Banks ran out of ideas so played around with Crow Road's plot and characters. Alban, the main character is great but with a little more effort could have been a total star. His speech at the Garbadale EGM is nothing more than a vessel for Banks' own anti-American ravings and Alban's character till that point led me to expect something more intelligent. That is the problem, Alban's blossoming character is ultimately submerged beneath Bank's own musings on life, universe etc. The revelation of Alban's identity is fairly obvious, in fact nothing in this book came as a real surprise and that is criminal for fiction. The book does end rather too suddenly (reminded me of the strange, sudden end to Patricia Cornwell's Blow Fly, the impression is of the writer becoming fed up with the writing and just wanting to finish!). It would have been so much better to hear the family reaction to Blake's demise and to witness the reunion of Alban and Verushka who, as one of the better characters, I really wanted to read of again. Almost unforgiveable is that some of the most brilliant characters, Tango and company, are so peripheral and are yet given some of the best scenes and dialogue in the book. It is obvious that Banks story telling skills are still there but this books gives the impression of still being a work in progess and with some decent editing and character development could have been brilliant. The tragic suicide at the heart of the story is a wonderfully written few pages and the author's humour is still hilarious and had me laughing but ultimately the book was something of a let down, still worth a read though. I believe his next book is a Culture novel called Matter, here's hoping that one's better.
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