Review

The Steep Approach to Garbadale

by Iain Banks

Iain
Banks has been publishing books in both the fiction/drama and
science fiction  genres since his controversial first novel,
THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. During this time he has built quite an
international following that is well-justified. His latest effort,
THE STEEP APPROACH TO GARBADALE, finds him in fine form and very
well may be his best novel to date.

The story begins with young renegade Alban McGill being sought out
by his cousin, Fielding, who is seeking him on behalf of family
matriarch Grandma Win. Alban's family, the Wopulds, have built a
fortune on a board game called Empire! (which closely
resembles Risk). Empire! has existed for nearly a
century and undergone many incarnations during this time --- most
recently, a popular video game version. The family had gone into
business with an American game company called Spraint, which now
owns 25% of the Wopuld Corporation. Fielding's goal is to find
cousin Alban and bring him to the family estate at Garbadale for a
meeting of the entire family to vote on whether or not they should
sell off the remaining 75% of their company to the Spraint
Corporation.

Alban has stayed away from his family for over nine months for a
number of reasons --- disillusionment with the family business and
avoidance of certain family members who constantly remind him of
controversial events that occurred in his past being the main
reasons for his self-imposed exile. Banks does a masterful job of
flipping back and forth between the present and the past. In
Alban's past, there is controversy over his birth (who exactly is
his real father?) and whether or not his birth mother intended to
abort him. He is also dealing with his mother's suicide and
questions over the events that caused this.

The most explicit secret in Alban's past, however, is the
summertime affair he had as a teenager with his cousin, Sophie,
while staying at Grandma Win's Garbadale estate. Alban has never
gotten over the affair or Sophie, and it has shaped him into the
man he is today and defined all of his successive relationships
(particularly with members of the opposite sex).

Banks keeps the reader anxiously turning the pages in a way that a
great thriller might. The Wopuld family and their board game
corporation at times reminded me of the Ewing family of TV's
"Dallas." In this case, family matriarch and the most powerful
member of the Wopuld Corporation board, Grandma Win, is the J.R.
Ewing of the book. Alban and his cousin spend much of the novel
traveling around Europe seeking out family members to encourage
their attendance at Garbadale for both Grandma Win's birthday party
and the voting on whether or not the family company should be sold
to the American Spraint Corporation. Secretly, Alban is anxious to
meet up with his cousin Sophie, who he has only seen once in the
many years since their secret affair. What Alban does not plan on
is the unveiling of certain secrets that shaped his past and may
very well change his entire future.

It was a pleasure to read this novel. Banks provides us with
well-drawn characters and enough drama to keep you guessing right
up to the end. The revelations at the end of the book are both
surprising and satisfying, and the depictions of the episodes in
Alban's past are so vivid and engaging that they reminded me of
Dickens's Ghost of Christmas Past segment in his classic A
CHRISTMAS CAROL. Well done, Mr. Banks!

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 25, 2011

The Steep Approach to Garbadale
by Iain Banks

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage
  • ISBN-10: 1596922710
  • ISBN-13: 9781596922716