Greg Eden mourns the passing of Iain Banks…
“Iain Banks is dead. I’m crying in an empty house. A good man, and a friend for almost 30 years.”
This short and incredibly moving tribute, tweeted by Gaiman yesterday following the announcement of the death of Iain Banks, is a testament to the affection in which the Scottish writer was held by his many friends in the literary world, and by his legions of loyal fans.
And we should have been prepared. A couple of months ago, Banks took the unusual step of announcing that he was suffering from terminal cancer, and that he didn’t have long to live. His publishers set up the Banksophilia website, where his friends and fans were encouraged to leave messages of sympathy and encouragement.
Even so, his death seems to have come as a shock to many, as the thousands of tributes across the internet and social media eloquently attest.
As a student in Glasgow in the mid-80s, I became increasingly aware that a lot of people were talking about a particular novel. It was dark, it was dangerous, it was twisted, but it was incredibly compelling – and it was by a Scottish writer – some guy called Banks.
This novel was The Wasp Factory – a bleak and disturbing story of strange rituals, animal torture and murder, with an ending that (in an industry where superlatives are routinely used and abused) was genuinely breath-taking.
Rejected by six publishers before being published, and an immediate succès de scandale – it remained the most seismic publication in Scottish literature until Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting hit the shelves over a decade later, and marked the beginning of a prolific and hugely successful writing career spanning three decades.
As my colleague Jon Howells so rightly remarked yesterday, he never wrote the same book twice, and would probably have been a great deal more successful, in purely commercial terms, if he had stuck to a formula.
In fact, his genre-spanning versatility and his stylistic experimentation became hallmarks of his writing – from the triple narrative of Walking On Glass, and the multiplicity of styles in The Bridge, to the time-shifting narrative of The Crow Road and the sinister decadence of Complicity – not to mention the entire Culture series which continues to delight the many fans of his Iain M (Menzies) Banks, SF-writing persona.
His consistent use of Scottish settings in his literary fiction (as opposed to SF) also lent his writing a sense of quintessential Scottish-ness and engendered a strong sense of loyalty amongst readers in his native land.
Away from the typewriter keyboard, Banks was an occasional iconoclast, known for his left-of-center political opinions, and famously said of Tony Blair “He’s a war criminal…he’s got to go…I think he’s bonkers”.
He was also a bon viveur, who spoke frankly in interviews of his recreational use of drugs, and was a leading authority on malt whisky, winning Celebrity Mastermind with his knowledge of the subject, as well as penning the whisky travelogue, Raw Spirit, in 2003.
His association with the drink was so well-documented that fellow Scottish writers, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Doug Johnstone all tweeted whisky-based tributes following yesterday’s announcement, with Welsh’s “Banksie Forever!” perhaps being the pithiest and most poignant of all.
We can take some solace from the fact that he not only leaves behind a body of work which demands re-reading, but a final novel, The Quarry, to be published next week.
He will be sadly missed by fellow writers, readers and booksellers alike.
Iain Banks, writer, born 16 February 1954; died 9 June 2013
Banksie Forever! twitter.com/WelshIrvine/st…
— Irvine Welsh (@WelshIrvine) June 9, 2013
Greg Eden, for Waterstones.com/blog
If you’d like to join Greg in remembering Iain Banks, visit the Banksophilia website or let us know your favourite of his books in our comments section below.