It may be that I’m just a good fit for it, or maybe it just came at the right time, because despite a somewhat lukewarm critical reception1, I loved Iain Banks’ latest effort.
The Steep Approach to Garbadale tells the story of Alban, a renegade member of the successful Wopuld family, who is asked to return to his family in order to persuade them not to sell out the business to a huge American firm. But it’s not the only thing Alban has to think about: returning to his family means he must confront his feelings for his cousin Sophie, a lust he’s harboured for years, and one which has impaired more obvious relationship opportunities. There is also the looming issue of his mother’s suicide, little discussed since his childhood.
All this is nicely interspersed with contributions from Alban’s new friends (who are far more vulgar than him, and even more so than his family), flashbacks from the gap year he spent travelling, and other international trips he’s been on. Laugh-out-loud funny in places and touching in others, the novel is certainly a page-turner, even if the “twist” at the end is a long way from a revelation.
My only complaint is that Banks can’t help throw in his own2 attacks against Bush, the Iraq war and feeding them through his characters like they were marionettes. Even though I agree with his politics, I’d prefer that he kept such sensitive subjects out of a book that really, doesn’t need them. The fact that having an American firm try to take over a smaller, British concern is a major plot point does not mean it needs to be politicised, even if it looks like it’s begging to be.
1 I mean proper critics. See the Guardian review for reference.
2 highly unsubtle, especially noticeable when coming from one with such a powerful command of the language