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Book Review: Stonemouth by Iain Banks


Drew Payne

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Stonemouth is a Scottish seaside town and after five years away Stewart Gilmour returns to it for the funeral of patriarch Joe Murston. Stewart has history with the Murston family, the crime lords of this town, especially with his treatment of Ellie Murston. Added to this is the strange suicide of Callum Murston.

Iain Banks’s prose almost effortlessly evokes the Scottish town that has passed its sell-by date and the people who remained there for their many different reasons. He also presents a narrator, Stewart Gilmour, returning to the town, who is swept along by the events surrounding him. Banks also presents a cast of almost larger-than-life characters, especially the members of the criminal Murston family.

Unfortunately, we have been here before with Banks’s fiction. Funerals forcing wayward sons home is a plot device he has used before, also those criminal families who are large fishes in very small ponds and beautiful lost loves. He has often portrayed smalltown Scottish life as the backdrop to other works of his. This book has iPhones, CCTV, video games, and a refreshingly frank and joyful bisexual male character (a character in Scottish fiction finally stepping outside the traditional straight and narrow), but so much else of this novel feels like old Banks territory.

Banks’s enjoyable and fresh prose certainly lifts this novel and makes it so very readable, with some horribly memorable set-pieces, but I wish he had chosen a different subject. This novel had the feeling of “we have been here before” and those earlier books felt better.

Find it here on Amazon

Edited by Drew Payne
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