Top critical review
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self indulgent, dull, disappointing
on 15 July 2009
In my youth I loved the Wasp Factory, liked Walking on Glass, thought the Bridge was ok, disliked Canal Dreams, and hated A Song of Stone. Assuming Banks had gone into terminal decline, I didn't bother with any of his subsequent "literary" output. So gawd knows why I bought into the hype surrounding "Garbadale" because far from being a return to form, this tedious slog of a novel is evidence that the decline is still very much underway.
There's a promising start in a council hovel with a cast of colourful Welshesque Scots druggies, but it soon becomes clear that they are irrelevant to the plot and present merely in order to show that Banks still has some dark comedic edge. One of these amusing ne'er-do-wells keeps popping up throughout the book at random intervals, presumably for comic relief. However most of the attempts at comedy in this book are weak. Cartoon batty aunts, bad puns and schoolboy "tee-hee" type stuff i.e standard Banks.
There's lots of already dated popular culture references to show us the author is still down with the kids, embarrassing "ooh, drugs, what a spiffing wheeze" attempts at wild rock'n'roll scenarios, and a large interchangeable cast of wealthy, well bred if eccentric family members whom we are supposed to unconditionally love. Much of the novel consists of long and uninteresting conversations, concerning the family business, between Alban and one or more of these posh relatives, when he's not slushily reminiscing about his mildly incestuous teenage first love... "Cuz, sweet cuz..."
On an emotional level the writing never gets beyond mushy adolescent infatuation; I would expect a little more maturity and depth from an author in his fifties, but I understand that Mr Banks spent much of the time he was supposed to be writing the book playing Civilisation on the PC.
As the plot plods wearily through acres of self indulgent noodling towards some sort of shocking revelation that will make it all worthwhile, there is the odd flash of lucid Banks prose, such as the much vaunted scene describing the suicide of Albans mother, or a gratuitous Thailand tsunami episode. But these are exceptions to the rule.
My patience ground down, I skim read the second half of the book and noticed nothing much of interest until the much-telegraphed shocking twist ending, which was in fact a complete let-down, leaving me resentful at having spent good money on this pile of tripe.