I enjoyed Stonemouth for many reasons. To begin with, while the location in the book was made up it came across as very real, as did the characters.
In addition, as someone who moved away from my hometown I could relate to Stewart (Stu) Gilmore’s feelings about returning home. (Not that I was run out of my hometown by gangsters.) Iain Banks caught the sense of returning home and finding oneself in familiar surroundings where things appear to have never changed, time never to have moved on, and yet you feel different.
I liked the way facts about Stu’s life in Stonemouth were revealed and Iain’s treatment of Stu’s interaction with old friends and companions wrung true. His treatment of Stu’s conflicting thoughts and internal reasoning about how his former girlfriend would react to him felt realistic.
The first half of the novel moved relatively slowly and I did wonder if I would have read it had it not been an Iain Banks novel. However, about halfway through it picked up the pace and I found myself not wanting to put it down. In fact, I had to force myself to put the book down at 1am on a midweek night so that I could get some sleep. (I only had twenty pages left at the time and so I finished it in Starbucks the following morning before going into work.)
Iain Banks always likes to take a shot at the establishment. The scene at the golf course presents him with this opportunity and his description of the gathering reminded me of all the recent coverage in the UK press about the “Chipping Norton Set” and the environment of collusion between politicians, agents of law and order, and those with a predilection for pursuits beyond those considered strictly legal, but all for the “better good”, of course. This scene could also be taken as a “hats off” salute to the film, “Hot Fuzz”, in which Bill Bailey’s two characters (Sergeants Turner) are seen to be reading Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks novels, and in which a similar approach to peace keeping can be observed.
It is the first book I’ve read in a long time in which the ending was not a foregone conclusion. Right up until the end it could have gone any number of ways and Iain Banks did a great job of laying any number of false trails that the reader could follow. As I approached the end of the book I had at least four possible endings in mind and I was kept guessing to the last few pages.
Many reviewers have considered this book to be a disappointment for a Banks novel. I do not agree with them. While “Stonemouth” is not “The Bridge”, “Walking on Glass”, “The Crow Road”, “Espedair Street”, “Complicity”, or “The Was Factory”, it is still a good read with a lot to offer and a novel that would have been acclaimed had it been written by someone else.
Thank you, Iain, for another enjoyable story.