The Business by Iain Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
You know those books that you read and enjoy while you’re reading them, but when you’re finished you struggle – even when it’s only days later – to recall much about them?
The Business is one of those books.
I’ve put off reviewing this for a while largely because I wanted to write something worthwhile, but was finding it difficult to think of anything to say about the work. So now: let’s get to it.
It’s an airport novel. Let’s be frank. It’s designed to be inhaled and forgotten, I think, so it’s fitting I bought and read it while on holiday. The writing isn’t bad, by any means, and the story is so-so – it’s just that it fails to leave much of an impact, which is a shame given the setup Banks provides.
The book is told from the perspective of Kate Telman, an executive in a shadowy, eons-old corporation known only as The Business. The Business is keen to own a nation state, so that it can have access to the workings of the United Nations, so there’s a geopolitical slant to what could otherwise be just a fairly standard shadowy-cabal-rules-world-secretly-until-this-character-rises-up kind of work.
Unfortunately, the blurb (or the imaginings you’re having based on the blurb) is probably more ultimately satisfying than what we’re given. There’s plenty of memorable scenes (almost crashing in a tiny mountain state, SCUD-collecting stories) and characters (though they tend towards the stereotypical: inscrutable businessmen, faintly daft avuncular types, sleazy Princes who have a heart of gold, really) but I just wasn’t too sold on the story, or on Telman’s character.
The lead’s background is well drawn, but some of the day-to-day descriptions seem a bit forced. She’s someone I really liked, and wanted to learn more about, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was a dude writing a woman without really asking any what it’s like.
Essentially, the story seems to boil down to a kind of factional contest within The Business, which was a disappointment. It seems a waste to have an all-powerful conglomerate (and an undeniably interesting stolen-tooth opening) and then to have the bulk of the story focus on territorial pissings. The ending sort of stumbled along, and I was left with the distinct impression that Banks had a great idea for a story, but then phoned it in when he had to actually write the fucking thing.
It sounds like I’m pretty down on this. I am, I guess – not because it was bad, but because it could be so much better. It’s still enjoyable in a holiday/waiting room kind of mode, but so is candyfloss: it doesn’t bear much reflection afterwards, and you probably wouldn’t want to have to chew through it every day.