I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t have liked this book as much as I do if I read it at a different time in my life. In Scotland, going away the Crow Road means to die, and death has not been as potent a theme in my reading years as it is right now; and I strongly blame this dark cloud of loss and despair for how much I loved this book. I’m not saying that The Crow Road isn’t good on its own (it is!), it’s just that current mental states often deeply affect how you experience a book.
The Crow Road famously, and quite beautifully, begins:
“It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.”
The Crow Road is my first foray into the world of Iain Banks and I didn’t expect it to be mainstream fiction (I don’t like using that term but I don’t like using “non-genre” either). I know Mr. Banks from the Culture series and I expected some straight-up SF in this book but The Crow Road is a beautifully woven masterpiece about a family in Gallanach, Scotland written mostly in Prentice McHoan’s first person point of view. Prentice is your typical male protagonist who transitions from being an irresponsible teen to fledgling adult through booze, religious debates, failing grades and sarcasm. He is very relatable.
Being The Crow Road, the book is filled to the brim with themes of death – from an unsurprising death of an old loved one, to an unexpected and quite hilarious way for an atheist to go, to unrequited love, suicide, etc etc. The book was also wrapped beautifully with a charming piece about passing away, the non-existence of an afterlife, legacies and vanity through death and many other facets of loss that made me see the many ways to experience death and the passing of loved ones in a novel, and sort of refreshing way.
I’m not very good at reviewing books (and everything, in general) but The Crow Road flows beautifully and its prose, though at times verbose, is beautiful and full of witticisms. I highly recommend it.