Book Review: The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks

The Steep Approach to Garbadale is available now and is published by Abacus.

I’ve been asked in the past to name my favourite erotica writers. This usually creates a fairly predictable list, although there is one surprise that keeps cropping up, the late, great and thoroughly likeable Iain Banks.

Banks, by most people’s standards, isn’t really an erotica writer. Even if we consider (As I’m going to) his filthiest book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale doesn’t even reach the category of erotic romance (not least because it’s not particularly romantic, or rather not conventionally romantic).

In terms of plot it has to be said that Banks’ works  grew slowly less shocking as his career went on. Anyone expecting a re-has of the Wasp Factory is in for a disappointment. But by the same token, I would argue that the Wasp Factory is actually the weakest of his works. Yes it has tremendous style, is truly deeply shocking in places, but it’s plot is a little nonsensical, the main antagonist of the piece is, in the end, essentially inconsequential. Garbadale (yes I’m shortening the name, deal with it) is a very different beast. It’s plot spans generations and continents with a diverse but genuinely engaging cast. Even the supporting characters who are predominantly there to either advance the plot of lighten the mood have a real feeling of depth about them, which probably excuses the slightly nothingy protagonist.

“So what?” I hear you cry. “I thought you were some kind of pervert, stop gushing over Banks’ writing abilities and get to the fucking!”

So, yes, the fucking.

It’s mostly between two teenagers, although the book follows them from their initial fumblings through an enforced separation and awkward meetings in later life. It’s not overly descriptive, the scenes themselves are very short and usually fall in the middle of larger pieces of text, but in doing so Banks manages to do something that many writers fail, he manages to add a true sense of the erotic.

I’m working on a theory (so bear with me) that erotica has more akin with Horror than it does Romance (Alasdair Stuart I hope you’re reading 🙂 ). Yes you can do the big jump scares of “OMG! Huge cocks! I wasn’t expecting that!” but it’s too easy, and quickly gets dull. Whereas the really good stuff comes at you from unexpected angles and creeps very slowly and naturally into your consciousness sending little shivers up your spine. Banks’ minimalist writing style achieves exactly this and, in my humble opinion, comes second only to the great Anais Nin in terms of reaching that very vulnerable part of my brain.

There’s no real kink per-se although the primary couple are cousins if that makes it more interesting for you (and unusually this isn’t gratuitous but truly integral to the plot).