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Andrew Donaldson: Banks Was Two Authors in One

By Andrew Donaldson for The Times:


Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane (Abacus) R165

THE son of a cop hangs out with a bunch of bad guys and becomes a gangster in Lehane’s propulsive Prohibition-era epic.

Now out in paperback, it follows The Given Day in his planned crime trilogy about an Irish-American police family. Last month it won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel and, like Lehane’s Mystic River and Shutter Island before it, it is also going to be made into a movie.


Farewell, then, Iain Banks, who has died of cancer, aged 59. He was curiously not one, but two of Scotland’s best-known authors: as the writer of literary fiction he was included, beside such luminaries as Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, in the 1993 list of Granta magazine’s best young British novelists, but he also found fame as Iain M Banks, the science fiction writer who set much of his work in an interstellar anarcho-communist world called The Culture.

According to The Telegraph, Banks regretted this demarcation of his work, and in later years the distinction between the two blurred somewhat and it was not always obvious into which category his books fell. His 2009 novel, Transition, appeared in the UK as an Iain Banks book, but the M (for Menzies) was added for the American edition.

He was best known for his debut, 1984′s The Wasp Factory. It brought him instant notoriety, with critics calling it “a repulsive piece of work”, “silly, gloatingly sadistic” and “a work of unparalleled depravity”. One of six publishers who rejected it before it was accepted by Macmillan claimed it made him vomit. Its narrator, 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame, lives with his father in an isolated house in Scotland where he has immersed himself in a world of rituals involving several murders and the torture of animals.

“The explanation of his isolation and his obsessiveness,” The Guardian noted, “is shockingly revealed in one of the culminating plot twists for which Banks was to become renowned.” (More to BookMarks’ taste, though, is Raw Spirit, a 2003 non-fiction work about his passion for single malts.) Banks announced his illness on his website in April and proposed to his partner, asking her to “do me the honour of being my widow”.

His last novel, The Quarry, is due to be published later this month.


Noughts and Crosses author Malorie Blackman has replaced Julia Donaldson, author of the Gruffalo series, as the UK’s Children’s Laureate. Blackman is the first black woman to hold this position.


“Those who showed the greatest sympathy to deserters were other front-line soldiers.” – The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II, by Charles Glass (Penguin)

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