Walking on Glass and The Quarry, by Iain Banks

Second sentence of third chapter of Walking on Glass:

Probably not. Prevaricating woman. He sighed and set off up the stairs again, pulling himself up by his hands on the thick, frozen rope fixed to the outside of the staircase, the castle’s concession to their earlier request for a handhold on the often ice-slicked steps.

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Quarry:

Guy, who had said last night he reckoned he’d b e able to go to the pub, is still in the house, sitting in the kitchen feeling sorry for himself. He looks even more gaunt and haggard than usual and hasn’t put his woollen hat on, so his head looks still more like a skull.

I had fond hopes one Worldcon planning weekend in 2013 that I could join on a recreation of Graham’s walk from Walking on GlassThe Quarry in memory of its author (Nick Harkaway has a nice line about an autographed copy in his Doctor Who story, Keeping Up With the Joneses). And they both popped up on my reading list at about the same time.

There is an obvious link between the two, in that both feature narrators who are not neurotypical. Steven Grout in Walking on Glass is clinically paranoid, and we experience his world from his perspective, though of course he tells only a third of the story. Kit, the narrator of the whole of The Quarry, is on the autism spectrum. I don’t associate Banks particularly with findong those voices for his narratives, so I guess it’s just coincidence that these two books both featured those narrators.

Another common theme between the two is concealed secrets of sexual history. In Walking on Glass, it’s Sara’s relationship with the mysterious Stock, who turns out to have an unexpected identity. In The Quarry, it’s farther back in terms of the narrative; Kit’s father, the dying Guy, has never revealed who Kit’s mother is, though he and his college friends spend much of the book reminiscing about their intertwined love lives. Both Graham and Kit are manipulated by sexual forces greater than they really comprehend.

And of course politics is inescapable in both books. Sara’s evil father turns out to be a Tory MP. Paul in The Quarry wants to become one. I think that Banks shows a certain maturing of perspective in the 28 years between the books – Paul is merely deluded, cynical and self-serving, rather than the spawn of Satan and father of evil.

As to which is better: Walking on Glass, obviously. It’s a brilliant intertwining of three different storylines whose links only gradually become apparent, a real sense of place in London alongside the fantasy game-playing castle of Quiss and Ajayi. Yet The Quarry has a great combination of themes that Banks had not often hit before: the impending death of Guy of course turns out to have awful personal parallels for the wrter (who was a much nicer person than the awful Guy), but I also liked the ensemble of Guy’s college clique, Peter’s Friends but done seriously, and the encroaching quarry itself, not to mention his characterisation of Kit. He wouldn’t have chosen it to be so, but The Quarry is a decent farewell to a career, more so than, say, The Shepherd’s Crown.

Walking on Glass came simultaneously to the top of my lists of unread books acquired in 2013 and unread sf – though I realise now that I had in fact read it before. Next on the former list is Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney; next on the latter is The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester, though I’m fairly sure I’ve read that before as well (but I haven’t written it up). The Quarry was recommended by you guys at the end of last year; next on that list is The Unicorn Hunt, by Dorothy Dunnett.

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1 Response to Walking on Glass and The Quarry, by Iain Banks

  1. parrot_knight says:

    Troughton’s performance is remarkable, though… and I’m sure there’s significance in Salamander’s not being phased by the TARDIS interior, a sign that he is quite mad as astonishment is the only sane reaction within the narrative of Doctor Who at that point.

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