Iain Banks dies before cancer theme novel hits shelves
Iain Banks, the bestselling author of The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road, died of cancer on Sunday, days short of fulfilling a wish to see the publication of his last novel, which explores the trauma of suffering from the disease.
The 59-year-old novelist had written candidly on his website about his condition in April, shortly after discovering the “grisly truth” that he was dying of gall bladder cancer and had only months to live.
He brought forward the publication date of his latest book — The Quarry — to June 20 in the hope that he would see it on the shelves before he succumbed to his illness.
However, he died in the early hours of Sunday, prompting an outpouring of grief from fellow writers and friends.
Writing on a website dedicated to tributes to Banks, his wife, Adele, said his death was “calm and without pain”.
Ken McLeod, a fellow sci-fi author, told The Daily Telegraph: “Iain was a wonderful friend, and I shall miss him terribly. Staunch, generous, humane and loyal, with a great love of life, he was, as has been said, two of our best writers.
“In his literary fiction and in his science fiction, he explored both the dark and the light, the intimate and the impersonal, and he leaves us with a lot to be grateful for.”
A statement from Little, Brown, his publisher, said: “Iain Banks’s ability to combine the most fertile of imaginations with his own highly distinctive brand of gothic humour made him unique. He is an irreplaceable part of the literary world.”
Banks was diagnosed with cancer in March, after what he believed was simply back strain turned out to be terminal cancer. He had just recovered from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct when further tests revealed the extent of his illness. Writing on his website a month later, he said: “I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a sore back in late January, but put this down to the fact I’d started writing at the beginning of the month and so was crouched over a keyboard all day …
“The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for 'several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.”
Following his diagnosis, Banks withdrew from all planned public engagements and married his long-term girlfriend, Adele Hartley, saying he had asked her “if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow”.
In The Quarry, Banks describes the disease as a “betrayal” by one’s own body and “unwilled suicide” through the lead character, Guy, a terminally ill man in his forties who is cared for by his son, Kit.
The book, which Banks began writing following his diagnosis, lays bare the difficulties of a character forced to use a Zimmer frame and who is unflinchingly opposed to alternative treatments.
In one passage, revealed in The Sunday Times, Kit says: “I know Guy’s cancer is not contagious. You can’t catch it off him. That’s the thing about cancer. It’s all yours — it’s entirely, perfectly personalised.”
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said Sunday: “Iain won many admirers with the humour and forbearance he showed in dealing with his illness.
“His determination not just to complete his final novel but also to reflect his illness in the pages of his work, will make that work all the more poignant and all the more significant.”