You must’ve heard the news. Scottish author Iain Banks has been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer, and he has informed everyone that he may be taken from us in a matter of months. This announcement came to me a few hours after I knew of a dear friend’s passing – Mommy Sylvia has gone into the good night last week, also from cancer. The pain that cancer brings hits very close to home. The grief of knowing the impending loss of someone you love is very real to me, and this early grief can sometimes be more terrifying and disabling than the pain of finally losing your beloved.
I am gutted to hear about Mr. Banks’s diagnosis to an almost embarrassing degree. It’s odd to be so distressed over a stranger’s health but Iain’s works have been a great consolation to me on my darkest days. I picked up my first Banks novel (The Crow Road) while I was beside my mother’s hospital bed. There are still many things I do not understand about death, but Prentice McHoan taught me the universality of loss – that there is nothing unfair about death, and people dying is merely part of how the universe works. The great side effect of growing old is outliving people, and I was glad to have Iain’s Prentice teach me about things I couldn’t, or refuse to understand while my brain was muddled with angst and anxiety.
The Crow Road‘s darkly comedic take on heart-rending grief was the first book last year that really, truly healed me. Under wonderfully woven words is a writer who looks through you and understands you. He sees the world and brings it to you with his works.
Right after The Crow Road, I picked up The Wasp Factory which is a novel of a different and darker caliber. This man has a way with words that will have lasting effect on you. I was making my way to some of this other mainstream novels (I have Complicity and The Steep Approach to Garbadale on my shelves), and finally on his works as Iain M. Banks (novels I have not read but have placed on pedestals), when this happens.
But Iain Banks also taught me that there really is no finality in death. There is no final page. The characters he has brought to life will stay with me for a long, long time and his legacy of outstanding literature will outlive every one of us.
Thank you so much for the stories, Iain. I will try to do you some of the honor you deserve by retelling them.
We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash. Death was change; it led to new chances, new vacancies, new niches and opportunities; it was not all loss.
Banksophilia: Friends of Iain Banks for updates and best wishes.