The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Whit by Iain Banks

I have had this book for so long I can't remember where I got it from. I suspect I may have bought it, about 15 years ago, as a book by an author I had heard a lot about but never read. I have finally got around to reading it.
This is the story of Isis Whit, a teenager who has lived all of her life on a self sufficient farm near Stirling. Isis narrates her story, but she is no ordinary girl, because Isis is an Elect of God, a position held by those born on the 29th February in the Luskentarian sect, founded by her grandfather. Isis is devout, following all of the teachings to the letter, living simply without adornment or any technological labour saving devices, in the community at High Easter Ofference, their farm.
An important 4 yearly event is coming up for the Saved at the farm, the Festival of Love, a free loving event to begat new Elect of God the following year, God willing. There is a problem though. Morag, Isis's cousin and guest of honour as an accomplished musician at the festival, has renounced her faith and gone awol. Isis is sent forth amongst the Unsaved to find Morag and return her to the community.
This book is a satirical look at the world through the eyes of someone who has lived apart from it, by a different set of codes. An observation of modern Britain by someone naive to its workings and ways. When Isis finally catches up with Morag, it seems that she has embraced the ways of the Unsaved with gusto, and Isis has a lot to learn about herself, life outside the farm, and also some truths about her own faith.
Although very easy to read, I found this book difficult to get into. I liked the sound of it, the fish out of water themes, the kooky sect, the impending comedy. I found little of it tickled my funny bone though (other than a plane ride and a cup of tea), and the over stereotyped characters got on my nerves (the hippies were like Neil from The Young Ones, the wayward grandmother like Joan Rivers). Isis herself had little potential for development, and I knew I was plodding on out of a determination to finish it. It did however get going about 2/3 into the book, in a surprising way, when Isis returns to the farm, and the plot took off and became interesting for almost the first time. It was then that I steamed through the rest of the book.
I don't think this book was the best Iain Banks for me to start with, and I have read mixed reviews about it on the web. I do have another by this author and I will give it a go, maybe in a while. It hasn't put me off, I didn't hate this one, I just found the first chunk of it laborious and it was a shame that it didn't hold you until near the end.
You can read more about Iain Banks and his work by using the link.
I read this to complete #6 of the 2011 Octogon challenges, to read a book by Iain Banks.


Annie said...

Do you know, that cover looks familiar,so although I know I've never read the book, I suspect it's lurking somewhere on my shelves too. And from what you say, I think it's going to stay there for the time being. I haven't read Banks in either of his guises and I probably bought this precisely because I felt I ought to. Have you read him as Iain M Banks?

Leah said...

Hi Annie, this is the only book by this author that I have read, with or without the 'M'. The other one I have is Dead Air, and I have always wanted to try his stuff because it seemed a bit off the wall and I like those types of books. I wish I had tried another as a first one, one of the more celebrated ones like Wasp Factory or Crow Road. I am sure I will try another.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye