This time I'll make Banks an exception
Asked to come on radio the other day and talk about Iain Banks, whose untimely death from cancer had just occurred, I had to decline. Banks was always engaging and interesting in interviews and was plainly a writer of stature, but I'd only read two of his novels – The Crow Road and Stonemouth – and thus would have felt fraudulent saying anything about him.
That's the problem for even the most assiduous of readers – there are simply too many books out there: more than 140,000 novels published in English each year if you're to credit a recent survey. And while some professional commentators give the impression of having read everything (though not chick lit, of course), it just can't be true.
In my own case, I've never got round to some of the most praised writers of our time and now probably never will. Indeed, when I'm not reviewing new books, I'm mainly a re-reader and am too busy reacquainting myself with the great fiction of the past to get round to books everyone says must be read – too busy, say, with Flaubert to bother with Flaubert's Parrot.
Still, maybe I'll make Banks an exception. The Crow Road was a true original and Stonemouth was a gritty thriller, so perhaps I'll try his last completed novel, due to be published by Little, Brown next week. It's called The Quarry and it's about the final weeks of a man diagnosed with cancer, just as Banks himself was early this year – whereupon he asked his partner, Adele Hartley, "if she would do me the honour of becoming my widow". They married recently.
If you're to believe the Daily Telegraph, Ireland remains part of the British empire. Its recent pull-out supplement, '500 Must-Read Books', had a section called British Classics and among these was listed James Joyce's Ulysses, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and John Banville's The Sea.