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In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death
on April 18, 2009
I'm afraid I can't join in the profusion of plaudits of The Crow Road as a literary work, but nor can I dismiss it as being "boring" or "too long" as other readers have. Yes, the book is indeed witty, and I truly don't understand the problems with "Scottish dialect" that other reviewers seem gratuitously to throw into their reviews. One thing that actually kept puzzling me was that there truly wasn't much Scottish dialect or too much British dialect for that matter to speak of herein. The idiom of much of the writing is, in fact, American - perhaps having to do with the fact that Banks spent several years in America before penning this book.
So, what am I to say here? First off, a great many people die unexpectedly, or not so unexpectedly, depending on how one interprets things - Banks leaves this question, delightfully, open-ended. But if you don't fancy pondering your eventual demise, this book is not for you. But what really kept me going was my gradual identification with Prentice Mchoan and his eventual love interest, "Ash" or Ashley. I started to realise, and it began growing on me, that Prentice was coming of age at the same time that I did, springing from the same upper-middle class background, listening to the same music (Morrissey, anyone?), drinking about as much (quite a lot!), and having the same sort of friendships and relations with women that I did, the only difference was that he was Scottish, whilst I was English. It dawned upon me somewhere near the end that this book was a sort of historical artifact of a sensitive, intellectual young man coming of age in Britain at the same time as I (though I didn't have quite so many funerals to attend). For this rather personal reason, the book was significant for me: The late night pub crawls, the hangovers, the drunken (and frequently stoned) commiseration with friends on rooftops, graveyards and other odd places. Above all, the sisterly friends who, ever so gradually, become love interests struck a deep chord. All these interludes were so spot-on to me that when the first Gulf War became obvious as the historical backdrop, I felt so strongly that I was reading about an era in my life and in history nearly two decades past that it was terribly striking. I don't know if the youth of today with their ubiquitous mobiles and text messaging are, in the end, very much different from the youth in the 80's and early 90's in Britain. But cultural differences are bound to exist between different eras. This was my culture, my era. It was interesting. It was awkward. It was weird. We were young!
As for the rest of the "mystery" in the plot and what not, it didn't engage me so much, perhaps for the very reason that the rest of it did. As Prentice's Dad tells him:
"The thing is that because the real stories just happen, they don't always tell you very much. Sometimes they do, but usually they're too...messy." (The ellipsis is Banks'.)
This novel is such a story.