The Wupold family have built their wealth by inventing the best-selling board game "Empire!", but there's now got to be an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss a proposal by a US conglomerate who want to buy the company. One of the family members is our hero, Alban, who some years ago sold most of his shares and began a career as a forester, but he needs to be found and brought back. On the way to the family home, he thinks back over the formative events of his life, and specifically his teenage romance with his cousin Sophie.
This is a fairly long book (12 discs) and it's one where Banks rambles on a bit. There are plenty of switches of perspective: sometimes we're in the present, sometimes in Alban's past, and sometimes viewing events from someone else's point of view. This is always a bit risky in an audiobook because you don't always see the gaps or lines of asterisks that can signify a scene change. In this case it was made worse because all of the CDs in the pack (except the very last one) had a scratch near the centre which meant that track 2 on each one was unplayable. I guess someone with a dodgy player must have borrowed it. Luckily, Banks' rambling meant that I don't think I missed anything crucial in the thiry minutes or so that had been erased from my copy, but it was a bit nail-biting on a couple of occasions where something significant seemed to be happening and I knew I was about to miss a chunk.
That aside, I really enjoyed the book. I don't think it's great writing, but it's pretty readable, and even though the themes aren't particularly novel I'm always a sucker for a story that has a male protagonist who's had a teenage romance that seems to haunt him as he grows up. I did enjoy the description of his love affair with Sophie, and the way that his subsequent meetings with her assumed such a large significance in his life, while having little meaning for Sophie.
It reminded me a little bit of Espedair Street (sympathetic main character who's got tons of money but isn't really interested in it). I think I also sort of thought it would be a bit like What a Carve Up! because of the way the book looked at all the different characters in a large and somewhat dysfunctional family who all had to come together in a big country house... but it wasn't really like that book.
I guessed part of the "twist" that was coming at the end, but hadn't really sussed that lots of the loose ends would be tied up by the explanation, so enjoyed that.
One thing that I noted was the discussion that Alban had with someone (his father, I think) where the suggestion was made that people who have more empathy are likely to be left-wing, because they have an appreciation for the feelings of others, and are predisposed to try and help them, whereas a lack of empathy tends to lead to a more right-wing, selfish perspective. If that's true, it was argued, that may also explain why most artists are left-wing, because empathy is part of what art is about. Haven't really thought it through, but it's a nice idea.
Enjoyed it more than I'd expected. Maybe I should read the other books by Iain Banks that I've not got around to.
Completed : 09-Jan-2014 (audiobook)