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A Song Of Stone
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on 9 March 2015
great product,as described. good seller
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on 14 October 2015
great 1
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on 10 April 2016
Good
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on 17 April 2016
Great book prompt delivery.
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on 29 June 2015
good
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on 24 July 2014
Book Review: A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
A Song of StoneA Song of Stone by Iain Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Song of Stone is Iain Banks 9th novel published in 1997, but he had already written another 8 Science Fiction novels under the name Iain M Banks, so a consistent output of almost two book a year at least over ten years.

As with most of the non-Science Fiction this book is fairly political in tone, and I read it the year of its publication in paperback. It was clear to all that this novel was speaking of the unimaginable brutality and horror which was the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. Due a split in the EU, the germans siding with their historic allies the Serbians and the rest of Europe wanting to help the Bosnian Muslims, this is the war Europe watched each night on its televisions, but did little to intervene except by its absence. The carnage and cruelty was unlike anything Europe had ever seen. Still nothing was done.

In A Song of Stone, Iain Banks reflects on the culpability of Europe by placing a similar conflict this time in his homeland which was the lowlands of Scotland. He puts the spotlight on a crumbling stately home and its useless over educated but under skilled aristocratic yet likeable owners, and then throws them in the way of pure cruelty.

I won't say much about the story, except that it is horrific in its slow paced incremental daily increase in needless violence. the kind of which only goes unchecked when all forms of states have evaporated, and in the end this small castle and its occupants come to represent the entire state of Bosnia, and their cruel needless suffering similarly.

It's hard to recommend this book, Iain Banks is, as always, creative, and the inventive horror stays with you long after you have closed the pages.

Still once you start its unput-downable. You have been warned.
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on 24 May 2014
I’m glad I left it a few days after finishing A Song of Stone before writing a review as it’s grown on me since I put it down. In part, that’s because it tackles big questions about identity and the nature of civilization, which are not easily considered while still reading the narrative; in part, it’s because the stylized and complex – sometimes almost poetic – language can get in the way of both the story and the ideas beneath it.

The setting is the aftermath of a brutally destructive war. Society has totally broken down. There is neither civil nor military government, no occupying forces and no army command, just survivors: refugees and armed bands. Against that backdrop, we meet the three central characters, an aristocrat and his lover (a relationship strongly implied to be incestuous), who have left their castle to join the tide of refugees, and the female lieutenant who, with her platoon/gang of men, turns them round and returns them to it. The castle itself is in no small way the fourth character.

What develops is a tale of how thin the veneer of civilization is, what the nature of it comprises and what is left when it's stripped away. It’s also about the relationships between the four characters – three human and one stone – and how they develop during the occupation. I’m not going to say much about the storyline as I don’t want to give too much away.

What is worth mentioning is the way in which the story’s told. It’s written using first-, second- and third-person, with the man narrating his own story and telling it to his lover (though in using ‘you’, it was unclear to me for a while whether or not he was directly addressing the reader). He is not a likeable person, indeed, none of them are, but he is believable. In some ways, it’s ironic that it’s written in the first person as his sense of detachment is so great that in most respects he might as well be an impassive observer. There is something of a dreamlike quality to it all and it’s extremely well written, both for what’s implied but not stated and for the subtle way in which the relationships between those at the heart of the story is drawn and develops.

Apart from the three central characters, the rest remain interchangeably anonymous and characterless. I think that's deliberate, emphasising the dehumanised situation but it’s another way in which it’s difficult to engage with them.

A bigger criticism I had was that in making the setting so bleak and dystopian, where people are having to survive purely off the fat of the land, what future can any of them have once that fat is exhausted or destroyed – as it soon must be in the circumstances – irrespective of whether or not they survive within this particular story? If none, why should we care? (But then, perhaps this is one reason the characters are unlikable to begin with: we’re not supposed to care).

Is it a good book? I’m not sure to be honest. It’s provoking, probing, beautifully if at times irritatingly written, and raises profound questions about the nature of humanity, society and civilization. I’m glad I’ve read it once but don’t think I’d read it again.
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VINE VOICEon 25 August 2013
A Song of Stone tends to be the one Iain Banks novel that even his most vociferous admirers dislike. Some take offence at the curious first-person narration. Others dislike the unremitting bleakness (after all A Song of Stone makes The Wasp Factory look like a sunlit afternoon stroll in the park). The violence, peculiar relationships and the generally unsympathetic nature of all the main characters can also, quite legitimately, provide causes for disgust and yet, for all that, I think A Song of Stone may be one of the best and most compelling books Banks ever wrote.

The book begins with the narrator, Abel, trying to flee his castle as civil war rages in the lands around the estate. Escape, however, proves impossible and he is forced to return to the stone walls of his home by a young Lieutenant and her gang of lawless soldiers. Once back at the castle uneasy alliances are formed; life stories are swapped and strange relationships develop between the central characters. The whole atmosphere is one of mistrust and unease all intertwined with queasy and largely unstated desires and the sense that one well-aimed shell, or one successful raid by the opposing forces could leave them all embracing death at any moment. Something about this set-up of death raging outside the castle walls and a last throw of the dice in terms of hedonism doused in fear taking place inside reminded me of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. Similarly there are echoes of Poe's narrator's sickly relationships with women in the way Abel desires the females in the castle. As the story progresses the situation for those inside becomes increasingly desperate and intense. A weird parody of normal life is played out in spite of the refugees camped outside and the holes in the floors caused by shellfire. One senses, as tensions escalate, that things are not going to end well.

I can't say I 'liked' A Song of Stone - it's far too dark for that - but there was much about the plot and the quality of the writing that I admired. Banks always had a brilliant eye for the telling visual metaphor and A Song of Stone, with its setting of castle walls, faithful old retainers and brash young gangs of outlaws gave him plenty of material with which to play. Some of the violence is hard to take but then that's the point. Desperate people in desperate situations will act well beyond the limits of acceptable society. A Song of Stone is never going to rank as a much-loved and fascinating classic like The Bridge or Espedair Street because it is just too unremittingly bleak and nasty but it is, even so, one of the most compelling pieces of fiction Banks ever put down on paper. Visceral, nasty and grotesque on the one hand, but brilliant, powerful and memorable on the other. It's not for everyone, but if you have a strong stomach it does contain some brilliant moments.
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on 4 March 2013
A character's internal monologue is a tricky thing to write. How do you know what another person thinks like? If I wrote out my internal monologue it would probably be 25% thinking about food, 25% thinking about going to the loo to rid myself of the food, 5% who would win in a fight between an alligator and a lion, and 45% random gibberish. It certainly would be nothing like the narration of Iain Banks' `A Song of Stone', told from the point of view of the blandest, yet wordy, man ever. `Stone' tells the abstract tale of a war torn country and a member of the landed gentry who has his boutique castle overran by militia. As well as learning a little about the conflict, you also get glimpses into the narrator's (Abel) past and why he is a bit pompous.

My issue with Abel is not his pomposity, but his turn of phrase. He narrates as if telling this story to his lover. The use of flowery language is abstract and does nothing but confuse the reader even more than the disjointed narrative. There are moments of real interest in the book, mostly surrounding action elements as Abel finds himself close to the gun battles etc. It is the various sections that reflect on his past that leave you thinking, "I just don't care". The constant ponderings on the past are artsy for artsy sake and did nothing for me but slow the pace of the novel and make me dislike Abel even more.

Banks is a brilliant writer, `Espedair Street' proved this to me, but in the case of `A Song of Stone' he has misfired by trying to make the narration too complex. He obviously wants to challenge the reader whilst exploring the concept of conflict, but challenging is one thing, alienating another.
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on 9 December 2013
This is an intriguing book which I would not recommend to a new reader of Banks. It isn't a difficult read but it isn't satisfying. The writing is good but the plotting is vague. The book is set in an undisclosed time and place but the castle and weather are typical of the British archipelago. Comparisons to The Road are valid as society has broken down but here there are squabbling militias. The castle, and family seat of the narrator, is the stage for the story but it is also a symbol for how the narrator's values, like the castle, are redundant in a time of savage modern war. I think?
It seemed to me as if Banks had a number of themes and scenes which he wanted to develop and he plopped them down here and tried to stitch them together. So there is great writing but no coherence. I thought Banks would bring it all masterfully together but I just felt that I didn't quite get it.
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