Tuesday, 29 July 2003

The Business

Listening to:

Beethoven, symphony no. 6 “Pastoral”.

Just read:

Iain Banks, The Business.

Because the author’s name is given without the middle M initial, you can tell that this book is not science fiction. Instead, it’s sans genre and set in the modern world. Nonetheless, it has rather a fantastic background: the business of the title is a private company that has been around since the time of the Roman Empire. In its almost two thousand years of existence it has amassed considerable wealth and power. (This gives Banks an opportunity to imagine the debauches of the rich and powerful in a way that sounds pretty familiar from various scenes in his Culture novels.)

The main character in the novel is a relatively high-ranking executive (a Level Three) in the Business, Kathryn Telman. She is sympathetic and gets to wander the world, meeting other more-or-less sympathetic characters, and doing so in well-described locations. It’s all quite stylish, and I liked the ending, but the plot is really rather underwhelming. There are really just two strands to it, one that is really about Telman’s personal development, and the other that provides the dramatic tension. But this second strand spends most of the novel submerged, before re-emerging to create a rather desultory finale. Then the major strand finishes in its oddly low-key way, and the novel is done.

An enjoyable, but slight, read, which doesn’t make as much use of its neat set-up idea as it might.

To read next:

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit.