Stonemouth by Iain Banks: A Book Review


Goodreads Synopsis:

Stewart Gilmour is back in Stonemouth. After 5 years in exile his presence is required at the funeral of patriarch Joe Murston, and even though the last time Stu saw the Murstons he was running for his life, staying away might be even more dangerous than turning up.

I should congratulate myself on being able to finish it because sometimes  I tend to put aside a book if I  no longer like its beginning. Since I am a kind of Iain Banks fanatic, I  expected that this novel would surprise me for something that could have made Iain Banks a greater writer , especially  it has received good reviews. However, reading this novel indicates that not all writers can meet their readers’ great expectations. So, I plead guilty for that.

I struggled to go halfway  not simply because it is hard to read  like the other challenging and critically acclaimed books , but because  I was not  used to Iain Banks’s writing style in this novel. The themes are ambiguous. Some words are too colloquial and regional not to absorb the dialogues, which I didn’t find  momentous  in a sense that I would rather have left the characters talking malarkey. But it started to grip me when it meandered on to the climax, full of gentle revelations by which I was beguiled and in which I was emotionally absorbed.  Besides, I remembered my literary observations on Iain Banks’s writing styles before: He loved writing something new. In short, writing a novel for him seemed like an art of experimentation. As a result, he turned his idea just the like of this  into a masterpiece beyond comparison, but the living proof that every writer by trade including aspiring ones can do the same shot.

One of the reasons why I have taken to reading Iain Banks’s works, aside from his distinctive stories, is his ability to capture his readers’ imagination or interest by virtue of his storytelling approach. His narration and prose are soothing. No matter how monotonous the story seems like, you wont to appreciate it. My experience in his The Crow Road ( 5/ 5 stars ) is the best example. As a matter of fact, the story  turned out to be like a drama series when it  started to sink in me. I was sitting in awe of how that family-drama novel captivated me like a literary philistine. Also, when I found out its TV series adaptation on YouTube, I even judged that the book was way better than it; only adult couch potatoes would appreciate it.

I have proven my vicarious observation more when I read his Whit ( 3/ 5 stars). I loved this novel not because of its immature and ludicrous themes on religion and occultism but because of how Iain Banks wrote the story impressively. However, I didn’t find that writing style in his The Wasp Factory ( 4/ 5 stars) . I surmised that Iain Banks just wanted his readers to focus on the psychopathic character. He didn’t need to lather all the narrations with vivid and overriding impressions. It was a matter of balancing the literary elements so that his readers would still buy it. It is like when you read those best-selling thrillers. Consequently, the novel catapulted Iain Banks to literary fame. It even became controversial and considered one of the banned books young readers should never dare to give a hand.

His writing style in The Wasp Factory  also resembles his The Bridge (5/5 stars), the springboard for my irresistible desire to launch a reading-all-Iain-Banks-books marathon. Nevertheless, among his books I have read and gave me the reason to fathom Iain Banks’s literary style as to Stonemouth for instance is his Dead Air  (3/ 5 stars). I almost lost interest in this novel because its writing style  is not the same as Iain Banks’s I am already familiar with. The story was a bit puzzling because I had to struggle with the core of the story. The narration was enigmatic and the standard of language used is also colloquialism and regionalism. So, I had to resort to contextualization, which is one of the main psychological experiences in reading books. However, this novel is more engrossing than Stonemouth. The latter one is too specific and superficial; the former one, laden with deeper emotions.

The bottom line is I would prefer it if Iain Banks had written Stonemouth , along with all of his other works , as impressive as The BridgeWhit, The Crow Road , and  The Wasp Factory. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that his other works just the like of Stonemouth are also awe-inspiring since for him writing a novel is an art of experimentation.It is not that easy to write a novel interweaving all the conflicts in the past and at the present time. Alas, it is not just my cup of tea. 

Despite that I did not like the way Iain Banks wrote Stonemouth, what I liked about it is that it only sticks to the major theme: the past of the characters that affect their present life. Perhaps, it is the reason why the dialogues did not appear to be appealing to me; I tended to read the next pages. However, I came to understand that the superficial dialogues reflect the depth of the characters’ regrets. That’s why I didn’t feel any romance at all if it is also meant to be about romantic relationship. Instead, it is a realistic relationship, or germane to any kinds of relationship, that ideally depicts how the unsolved past acrimonious relationship  should end up in magnanimity and forgiveness.

The other interesting facts I found in Stonemouth are some plots that reminded me of his other novels. In this novel, there is an Asian maid who is also mentioned in his The Crow Road. I wonder if Asian maids were close to Iain Banks’s heart. What made him draw such inspiration? The novel also describes a bridge as one of the settings like the one in his The Bridge. Then, Iain Banks never forgot to inject the theme on religion into his novel. In real life, he was an atheist. Finally, the linchpin of the story in this novel is also about a young criminal  like in his The Wasp Factory. The only twist is that the he is a wanna-be psychopath.

The other driving force behind my interest to finish Stonemouth is my love for learning new English words.But, in  this novel, I learned many Scottish words which I may not of course use in English communication. (laughs) They are good references for novels written by writers of Scottish extraction.

I still have some books of Iain Banks lying around. I can’t wait to discover what something else Iain Banks could have crowed to the world that he was  indeed one of the best imaginative writers in his generation. 🙂

Rating: 2/ stars ( It’s okay.)










  1. Interesting, like you, I’m a big fan of Iain Banks and wondered what this was like, now I’m not sure I want to read it – don’t want to taint his other books!

    Liked by 1 person

      • The Wasp Factory is probably my favourite, just for all the bizarre ideas in it and the way it played with the notion of gender (would probably seem quite primitive now!) I remember loving The Crow Road, but it’s a while since I read it. You’ve inspired me to go on a hunt to track down those old favourites, and maybe a few more 🙂


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