James Kidd

The Steep Approach to Garbadale

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

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The Steep Approach to Garbadale

by Iain Banks

Little, Brown, HK$132

The novel begins in medias res, although it takes a while to work out precisely what kind of res we are in the medias of. The setting is a squat in Perth, Scotland. It is an unlikely place to find Fielding Wopuld, president of a multimillion-dollar games empire, whose best-selling product, spookily enough, is called Empire! Fielding is looking for his cousin, Alban, the Wopuld black sheep who swapped the family business for scruffy facial hair, strong drink and an on-off romance with a sexy mathematician. The Wopulds have been made an offer for Empire! they don't want to refuse, but need Alban to vote on its future. At this point, the story begins to meander pleasantly among past, present and future. Having returned to the fold a sadder, wiser man, Alban relives his childhood loves and losses: his formidable grandmother; the mysterious death of his mother; and the illicit teenage love affair with his cousin Sophie that hastened his departure. Banks is on top form throughout. Always a brilliant spinner of tales, he delivers a number of political lectures without interrupting his playful narrative whirl and is helped by some of the finest writing of his career. The scene that reveals what happened to Alban's mother is vivid, tender and heartbreaking.