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on 3 November 2010
I love this book, but I'm finding it hard to explain why! It's certainly not as shocking or thought provoking as some of Banks' earlier novels and a couple of bits in it really annoyed me when I felt the author was one-sidedly voicing his own political opinion through his characters rant.

Despite these minor criticisms I found it really warm, good humoured and well written and the characters very likeable; I would say of his previous novels the style reminded me most of Espedair Street. It was also incredibly easy to read and I reread it almost immediately. The conclusion was satisfactory but not exactly mind blowing and I'd half predicted it very early in the book (only half, I was actually anticipating something much more shocking!) but I really didn't mind as it had been a pleasure to read and it's not the kind of novel that hangs on the shock final revelation a la Wasp Factory.

If you approach it with no expectations or preconceptions of what you're expecting from an Ian Banks novel then it is a good, enjoyable read and highly recommended!
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on 19 April 2007
I have all Banks's novels and was desperate to see him reverse the decline in his work over recent year. Sadly, this is another turkey and I can't see IB ever turning things around. He seems to be content with "celebrityhood". This novel jumps around constantly and seemingly randomly in place and time, devoid of structure. The plot is far-fetched, the characters even more so. It does, I have to admit, have a twist in the tail, but I suspect that many might guess it in advance - although I didn't. This is a 400 page novel. At half that length it might just have worked. As matters stand, it is a piece of self-indulgence by an author who no longer seems bothered. I won't be buying any more of his novels in hardback. He needs a kick up the backside from his publishers.
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on 5 April 2017
Banks at his best, family intrigue and teenage romance... history repeating itself... maybe! Great story populated with delightful characters... I'd love to meet them! Laugh out loud in places.
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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 14 October 2015
great !
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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2012
It been a while since I picked up an Iain Banks with much anticipation - in fact it's been a while since I picked one up at all. But there is always the hope that he can return to his best form, and the quotes on the cover gave some substance to that hope.

It starts pretty well, typical Banks elements, sex, drugs, dynastic family, feisty but sexy women outsider protagonist and hints of dark secrets in the past. All set up for a family reunion to discuss a US takeover of the family firm at the remote Scottish pile that is Garbadale. All enjoyable and promising.

Trouble is precious little happens over the next 150 pages or so, a few more flashbacks, a bit more information on what we have already been told, but little dramatic tension or plot development, but too much of Alban, the main character, simpering over his teenage love. At points I was forcing myself to pick it up, only the hope of a satisfactory resolution once the family gathered kept me going.

When we eventually get to Garbadale the climax (if it can be called that) is perfunctory, with the central revelation pretty predictable. While like most of his recent works it get bogged down in Banks putting political speeches into the mouths of the characters.

I had quite warmed to Alban early on, but by the end when he is lecturing some paper thin American `character' about Iraq I'd entirely gone off him. As for the heavy handed metaphors about empire and American Imperialism - they are just that - heavy handed.

Part of the problem is Banks just doesn't seem to have moved on as author - like me he is in his 50s - yet he is still writing about 30ish outsiders reconciling themselves to their elders, and as if anyone over 60 is somewhat odd.

More fundamentally though, in his desire to push his political views (which in general I agree with) he seems to have forgotten how to spin a good yarn.
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on 6 July 2009
I am huge Banks fan; I have read every single book that he has written and enjoyed them all, obviously to a greater or lesser degree. There is no author whose works I look forward to more. And yet...

Every single idea in this book has been done before and better by Banks himself. Taking ideas from The Crow Road, Song of Stone, The Business and various of his SF novels, he spins a story that I just could not find interesting. I have never before found it hard to keep reading in a Banks novel but...

I am so sorry Iain but I just couldn't enjoy this one. I did enjoy Matter though and I am looking forward to Transition.
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on 24 March 2007
I must say I was a little shocked by some of the negative reviews of this novel because I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I'm a long-time Banks reader and, though I don't much like his SF, his literary fiction always gives me something to think about.

True, it's not as good as some of his earlier novels, but I found myself liking the protagonist, Alban, very much. He's a kind of black sheep who has all but abandoned the family business, but finds himself enmeshed in the debate about the proposed American buy-out as an advocate for not selling. For Alban, who owns so few shares that his voting power is virtually irrelevant, it's a matter of principle. Alban is very much a lefty and resents the commercial imperialism of the Americans. That resentment comes to the fore near the end of the book, when he lets fly at one of the (admittedly stereotypical) American executives about everything he hates about American politics and foreign policy. It's not subtle, but it adds a political dimension to the way you interpret the book. Indeed, you could read it as a leftist political statement against US imperialism - at least partly.

Interlaced with the business stuff is the family stuff, notably Alban's obsession with his cousin Sophie. Yes, a little soapy, but I found it quite fascinating. The family story is told through narrative that jumps backwards and forwards in time. Time-jumping can be annoying if not done well, and I think Banks does it well enough here. I didn't find it obtrusive or confusing. For me, it progressively built layers of complexity that illuminated the family dynamics.

Certainly the novel has its flaws, but nonetheless, I think it's Banks' best effort since Complicity.
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on 22 July 2007
I've read more than half of Iain Banks's regular novels (as opposed to Iain M Banks's science fiction work) and although I enjoyed this book, I would have to say that the story would be a little bit leaden if it weren't for the author's well-crafted plotting. Which is to say that it's an unexciting story told with the skill of a page-turner.

The central character is a young man called Alban who is struggling vainly to come to terms with the failure of his adolescent first love about 20 years after the event. He has a girlfriend and some colourful friends but he remains obsessive about Sophie. She is his first cousin and so their secret summer of love in the Eighties was doomed when their family found out and she was condemned to exile in a Spanish boarding school.

This love story is told in flashback at a time when Alban's wealthy family, which owes its riches to a board game devised by Alban's grandfather, is coming together from around the world to consider a buy-out of the family firm by a large American company. And so of course Alban and Sophie are set to meet for the first time in several years.

There are a number of questions that drive the plot forwards. What happened between Alban and Sophie in the intervening years? Will they reunite or will Alban stay with the far more interesting Verushka, nicknamed VG? Is the family protecting the truth behind Alban's mother's sudden suicide when he was a small boy? And will Alban convince his family to keep its identity and reject the lure of millions of dollars from the Spraint Corporation?

There's an undisguised subtext here. This is a book about a board game called Empire! which is a game of global domination. The family has built an empire of its own - including the eponymous stately family home Garbadale - on its proceeds and now another even more voracious empire - an American one - is seeking to gobble it up. Alban stands in the middle, not proud of his family's empire-building but wholly opposed to that of the Americans.

And in case you missed the point, Alban ultimately spells it out with a left-wing tirade against America's invasion of Iraq. There's no question of this being a debate - it's something of a Michael Moore-style polemic, which Alban, and by extension Mr Banks, admits is a little self-indulgent. But as Alban/Banks reflects, where else is he going to get an opportunity to air his views in front of so many people? So, while I'm glad to say the loose ends are all tied up and the story has a satisfying conclusion, albeit featuring a fairly unremarkable twist, the big question that's thrown up by the book is: should an author be excused for shoe-horning his political beliefs into a love-story-slash-family-saga where they don't belong? On the one hand, the novel is his mouthpiece, his chance to change people's minds about something he believes in. As it happens, I share his views. But on the other hand, if his views upset or annoy his readership, he'll inevitably have fewer readers next time round.
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on 23 May 2008
This is the first Iain Banks book I have read. Like other reviewers Nothing much grabbed to start with but I always like to persevere with these things. I found the main character fairly likeable but again like other reviewers found a lot of the content a bit pointless.

Having said that I did feel that the book was leading to something good but (and it is rare for me to get these things right) I had already guessed what the twist was fairly early on. It seemed almost too obvious which is why I persevered to find out what the outcome was going to be.

All in all, disappointing. I am assured by friends that his other books are excellent reads but based on this I am reluctant to give them a shot
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