Monday, October 16, 2023

Stonemouth by Iain Banks: A Scottish Tale of Homecoming

Stewart Gilmour is back in his hometown of Stonemouth after an exile of five years. He had to abscond from the seaport town, which is controlled by two crime families, following a misadventure that resulted in the deep displeasure of the Murstons. He gets a chance to return to attend the funeral of the partriarch of the Murston clan, who always had a soft corner for him. What he felt would be a sober weekend affair turned out to be a succession of nasty and awful confrontations that eventually forced him to face the embarrassing past.

Stonemouth is a crime novel written by Iain Banks, set in a fictional Scottish town. This is the first time I am reading a novel by this famous writer, and I feel it is worth all the hype. The book alternates between genres—it's a crime thriller and a love story that contains liberal sprinklings of black humor. The author never tries to amp up the pace or turn on the heat on the reader and settles for a contemplative narration with many flashbacks that take them along the past of the protagonist.

The novel is narrated in first person by its protagonist, which provides a very deep and personal unfurling of his psyche. The reader feels sympathetic to him, even though he has screwed up big time with his imperative and immature decision-making, causing severe embarrassment to himself and others around him. His characterization as a sore thumb who is walking around with an awful past while all others have carried on with their lives makes the characterization all the more interesting.

The novel, as I mentioned before, doesn't contain much action or violence. Most of it is our protagonist walking around his old haunts, catching up with friends and family, reminiscing about his past, and surviving awful confrontations, all the while desperate for closure. We meet all other characters through the eyes of Stewart, and it is interesting when his perception of them changes, pulling the rug out of us on some occasions. Iain Banks is a master at building up suspense and tension in many scenes and pulling out of it tactically. So, when the violence and mayhem really hit, it hits the reader quite hard. There are a few mysteries thrown in for our protagonist to solve. But they don't make much impact on the plot or the reader.

Stonemouth is a warm and personal tale about an interesting and flawed protagonist who is looking for closure from an embarrassing past. It is empathetic to its characters and contains a nostalgic undertone. Sporadic eruptions of violence and a few mysteries unravelled along the way add to its appeal.

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