Saturday, 16 May 2015

This Reader Won’t Be Saving Mr Banks!

In recent weeks I have read two books which, superficially at any rate, have a very similar plotline;

An important family event is taking place [one a funeral, the other a birthday party]. People are returning home for this, and it is apparent that the family members have many secrets, and much is going on under the surface. There are an awful lot of dysfunctional relationships and unresolved problems. The story goes backwards and forward between the past and the present – and finally reaches a conclusion.

The books were Iain Banks’ Stonemouth and Harriet Evans’ A Place For Us. I picked up the former in the library [Bob has sometimes mentioned him, as he also writes science fiction as Iain M Banks, and Jon had been involved in publishing some of his stuff at Pluto Press] and the latter was a gift from Kezzie [it arrived wrapped in her Dr-Who-Shirt]

iain banks stonemouth

The events of Stonemouth are presented through the first-person narration of Stewart Gilmour, a twentysomething who is returning to the town for the first time in five years; ever since, in fact, he was drummed out of it by one of the local crime families, the Murstons. The occasion of the truce is the funeral of Grandfather Murston, but Stewart is concerned that the younger members of the family may not be quite as keen on his limited period of grace. Over the weekend leading up to the funeral he reacquaints himself with old friends and enemies and reminisces about his childhood and adolescence. Overshadowing a particularly gruesome fatal accident  and the unresolved apparent suicide of Callum Murston are Stewart's memories of the impossibly beautiful Ellie Murston, the girl he loved and lost, and the reason for his exile.


When Martha Winter sits down to write out the invitations to her eightieth birthday celebration, she knows that what she is planning to reveal at the party could ruin the idyllic life she and her husband David have spent over fifty years building…
But she can’t live a lie any more.
The invitation goes out far and wide, calling her three children and their families back to Winterfold, their country rambling home; Bill, the doctor; Florence, the eccentric academic; and Daisy, the child who never fitted in. As the story unfolds, each character reveals the secrets, joys, and tragedies they are wrestling with through the confines of the family.

Both books were compelling, in that I needed to read to the end to find out what had happened and why. But I really struggled with Stonemouth. It definitely wasn’t my sort of book – I accept that Gritty Glaswegian Gangsters enjoy a different vocabulary from the average Sunday School teacher, but I did find so many **** words a bit too much [I can think of some of my American blogfriends who would probably re-title it “Pottymouth”!] And when I did get to the end, I really didn’t care what and why. I didn’t find Stewart particularly likeable, and the rest of the characters were even worse! The blurb on the jacket said ‘tough, funny, fast-paced and touching’  but I clearly made a mistake and didn’t spot the ‘tough’ or I wouldn’t have bothered with it. I think it would be unfair of me to give a star rating. There are many others who have enjoyed this one, I am sure.

The Harriet Evans story was intriguing, and I did find myself correctly guessing the answer to some of the secrets as the story progressed. It was a much gentler book [unsurprisingly IB writes in a macho way, whereas HE is clearly feminine in her depiction of family life. Think Binchy, or Pilcher] I found it more…comfortable…to read. I felt that ‘splashing a mug of tea on the kitchen table’, is more part of my experience than ‘nicotine stained fingers grasping the broken beer bottle in the alley’ Kezzie has a good review of A Place For Us here, and I think I would go along with a lot of what she says. A few parts of the story seemed a little contrived. It is one thing to tie up loose ends – but did she need to weave them into such an intricately neat macramé pattern? Life’s not like that. **** I think!

Final comments

1- I think I would probably prefer the works of Rosie M Banks [PG Wodehouse’s fictional romantic novelist]to those of Iain M Banks

2-Will I ever get round to watching Emma Thompson saving Mr Banks? I hope it is on TV sometime – it did get a mention on Pointless this week!

3- I would like to pass “A Place For Us” on to another reader – so please comment below before May 22nd, and then I will draw a name out of my Nepalese Jester Hat next weekend.


  1. Thank you for these two helpful reviews. I am intrigued by both books.

  2. Interesting book reviews. L is pencilled in for her operation 24th July so if my name was picked out I would take this with me to read whilst I should be sleeping.

  3. If you've got time to watch the film, Ang, and want to email me your address, I'll send you the Emma Thompson DVD to borrow. Bought it ages ago as we loved the film at the cinema, but I haven't had a chance to watch it again yet. It is here somewhere and I'd be happy to dig it out for you xxx

  4. I do enjoy Harriet Evans for an uncomplicated read. I have read that one so please don't enter me into the giveaway. I'm sure whoever wins it will enjoy it.
    I can't cope with 'blue' language in any book.

  5. Ian Banks is an acquired taste. Much like the Jo Nesbo that I'm trying to plod through but which I just know I will abandon - it's been giving me some horrible nightmares and I'm not really a great fan of crime thrillers anyway! I've just ordered the new Kate Atkinson 'The God of All Ruin' I think it's called? Have a good weekend, Angela and I would ignore the gardening advice about leaving things for 6 months! Sounds like there's lots to see in your new garden already. x

    1. I just picked up a Nesbo in a CS, but I shall have to wait for the right time to read it - like holidays when I can read in the daytime [I'm NOT good at reading thrillers just before sleep] Have not read any Kate A yet. Thanks for the garden advice!

  6. I enjoyed reading your reviews and would like to read the book by Harriet Evans. I am an avid reader of many genres of fiction, but could not plod my way through a book by Jo Nesbo and am more of a Kate Atkinson fan.

    1. I went to the library earlier, and got out another Harriet Evans - but then could not remember what Kate's surname was, so was unable to get any of her stuff. I should have written it down. But as TWO of you have recommended her, she is worth a try!

  7. Glad you liked it. Not read any Iain Banks- suspect I would also hate it!!x


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