‘Stonemouth’ by Iain Banks is a slow, steady tale set in Scotland, about a man called Stewart Gilmour. Stonemouth is a town that’s run between two major crime families and the setting is described vividly when the plot takes us by the beach, or for a walk in the forest, as the characters discuss their issues. Iain Banks still thrives on wonderful description, that hasn’t lessened even slightly since his first novel, ‘The Wasp Factory’.
Though the plot may be slow, it’s also captivating and well told. Stewart – Stu – has been away in London for the past five years after being chased out one night – and maybe it would have been better if he never returned. He has returned for a funeral, and has obtained a declaration of peace for the time being from the largest crime family whom he did wrong… though perhaps not everyone agrees.
While that is the main focal point, throughout ‘Stonemouth’ we are introduced to a range of characters Stu has come into contact with over the years. We see who he grew up with and what they got up to (such as playing around on golf courses or playing with paintball guns) and what they are like now, what jobs they grew into.
Very gradually we learn why Stu had to leave Stonemouth in the first place, and what led up to these circumstances. We learn to care about the characters involved, not because we sympathise with them (though maybe we do) but mainly because we get to know them. Seeing the dramatic events that shaped them all as people, we can’t help but believe this book – written so realistically – could be a true account. It’s simply wonderful.
As I keep saying, what I liked about this book, was that it felt real. There are other books set in gang territory that are grand and seem dangerous and dramatic – and maybe living in such a place is like that sometimes (I’m not to know after all) but this book felt so realistic. They were all just people who had grown up together, who lived by different rules and sometimes had to oppose each other.
This book felt noticeably modern. There are references to iPhones and current music that make you pause for a moment because the plot and the feel of Stonemouth itself seem like they’re 30 years in the past – and yet it never felt forced or unnatural for one moment.
The accent of the characters is written masterfully, words spelled differently to convey how they’re pronounced in their part of Scotland. This is easily the best example of this trick being used and never once was it annoying or jarring.
Overall, I can’t think of many, if any criticisms for this book. I have only read ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks, other than this one, so perhaps those who’ve read more by him are able to comment on his running themes in this book. As someone who has only read one other, I really enjoyed it.
This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 13th April 2012.