Around page 200, I finally had to face the inevitable. This book was bad. Like, really, truly terribad. I want to love all of Iain Banks' work and shower him with 4 and 5 star reviews, but there is no way to justify it with _A Song of Stone_.
The primary problem is the narrator's voice. To give you an idea, I've opened the book to a random passage, and found:
While always preferring poetic injustice to prosaic probity, it would, I think, have been a shame if that which wakened us in the morning had put us instantly back to sleep again, so that in some state, we lay in. You were always the darker sleeper; I have seen your slow unslumbering take more than one cock's crow to achieve. Our reveille is accomplished, however, by something capable of flight which happily does not find its voice.
(page 98; he is woken up by an incoming artillery shell which turns out to be a dud)
Notice the forced & weaksauce double meanings, the yoda speak, the endless stream of unneeded and indirect verbiage. This style continues throughout the majority of the book. Occasionally Banks seems forget that his main character is supposed to be unreadable, and will lapse back into clear, non-grating prose, but in general it is 250 pages of this. The style does seem to be an intentional choice meant to to match the character, but it is a bad choice, as if _The Sound and the Fury_ was told entirely by Benjy. There are a few memorable scenes where the plotting and events start to redeem the book, but these are quickly smothered by more passages like the above. Overall, the story reads a bit like _The Stranger_ as narrated by a prolix twit.
Editors Note: A list of burns which did not make it into the final review:
- On the plus side, the _Steep Approach to Garbadale_ no longer has to think of itself as Banks' worst book.
- In the last week I've read multiple MLP fan-fics which are better than this.
- More like _A Song of Suck_.
Post Mortem, ~3 years later: Well, this is a pickle. I still hate the book as an experience, but it does bring up and examine ideas which are A) of continuing interest to me, in that every few months I find myself thinking along particular lines and then making use of this book's ideas, and also B) this book's ideas aren't really examined anywhere else that I have found. So, how many stars is that?