‘The Crow Road’ by Iain Banks (1992)

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - JULIE PAR­SONS

It’s a fam­ily story, a love story, a story of loss, of grow­ing up and ma­tur­ing, of be­com­ing a man, with an open­ing sen­tence to stop you in your tracks. “It was the day my grand­mother ex­ploded.”

It’s 1990, and the ex­tended McHoan fam­ily have gath­ered for the fu­neral of the ma­tri­arch, Grandma Mar­got. They’re a colour­ful bunch. A col­lec­tion of feuds, af­fairs, re­sent­ments, ha­treds and de­vo­tions, united by a deep-seated love for Gal­lanach, the fam­ily home. But Mar­got has been cre­mated with her pace­maker in place. Hence the ex­plo­sion.

Pren­tice McHoan is Mar­got’s grand­son. He’s a trou­bled young man, look­ing for love and not find­ing it. He’s also ob­sessed with find­ing his Un­cle Rory, a flam­boy­ant hippy, ac­ci­den­tal travel writer and charis­matic loved by many. But dis­ap­peared. Per­haps away “the crow road”, as they say, in an old Scot­tish metaphor for dead. He’s left be­hind scraps of writ­ings, an­cient floppy disks, a col­lec­tion of diaries with coded en­tries. This is a fam­ily with a mys­tery at its heart. Pren­tice took me with him on his quest.

The book is suf­fused with whiskey, the drug of choice for Pren­tice and his fam­ily. It’s a hymn of praise for Scot­land, from the grimy Glas­gow streets to “Gal­lanach . . . the crum­pled hills be­yond, the brindle of forests to the east and the glit­ter of waves to the west, where the ocean was”. A cel­e­bra­tion of fam­ily, too. De­spite their feud­ing, fight­ing, and fall­ing in and out of love with each other, the McHoans are the kind of clan you’d want to be­long to. And they sure know how to throw a good party.

But it’s the story of Rory, the miss­ing McHoan, that drives the nar­ra­tive on­wards. How is he con­nected to the death in a car crash of his sis­ter Fiona, mar­ried to the wealthy Fer­gus? For those who love a good end­ing, Banks knits the loose threads into a gar­ment rich and rare. And Pren­tice, even­tu­ally, gets the girl.

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