Stonemouth – Iain Banks
The book is set in north Scotland; this is what I imagine of the landscape, a cold hazy little township with rolling greens, hills, etc etc. A corner of the country that kids grew up in, played together, fought together, drank together, and experienced so little yet so much. Slow quiet conversations, slow quiet sentences, some drunken revelry, some young relationships. ‘Tender’ was the word one of the reviewers used, and I gently agreed with that – Iain Banks (non-M) has this tender streak, yet mixed with a huge dose of illicitness and wildness, a type of raw wildness that you’d find in Scotland’s northern shores and weather. Haven’t read like this in awhile. Still prefer his Culture novels of course, but this is nice too.
…and people seemed to assume that we’d be together next year – we got joint invitations to weddings nine or ten months in the future.
…so Ellie and I had become a couple, in the eyes of those around us as well as in our own heads, and our match, our partnership, had started to be factored into webs of relationships that extend far beyond us, and deep into the clouded waters of Stonemouth’s surprisingly tightly controlled little society.”
Voices from the kitchen.
I walk in and Ellie’s there, sitting at the table with Mum and Dad, tea and biscuits all around.
Ellie smiles at me. It’s not a big smile, but it’s a smile.
‘Here he is!’ Mum says.
‘Aye-aye. Your phone off?’ Dad asks.
‘Lost it. Got a new one,’ I tell him, nodding at Mum. I look at Ellie. Five years older. Face a little paler, maybe. Still beautiful, still … serene. A touch careworn now, perhaps, or just sad, but then that’s probably just me, seeing what I expect to see. Her hair’s a lot shorter, worn down but only to her shoulders; still thick, lustrous, the color of sand. ‘Hi, Ellie.’
‘Do you ever feel like you’re just waiting to die?’ she ask, not looking at me.
‘Umm … not really, no,’ I tell her. But I’m thinking, Fuck me, this is a bit heavy.
‘No? Sometimes I feel like that,’ she says, ‘Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all before, been everywhere, done everything, experienced everything, and you start to think, What else is there except more of the same, only maybe worse?’ She looks at me. ‘yes? No? Anything like that? Or just me?’
‘Well, something like that, so not just you. Not so sure about the wanting to die bit. Though I suppose some people—‘
‘Not wanting to die,’ she says. ‘Just … waiting for it to happen, when it does. Like you’re already anticipating the end.’
‘Oh I think about what I actually do,’ I tell her, ‘and Ferg’s right: I point lights at big buildings. I’m an exterior decorator fussing over phallic substitues of rich boys. I window dress the grotesque status symbols of a kleptocratic worldwide plutocracy, the undeserving elite of the far-too-impressed-with-themselves uber rich. It’s exciting, it’s rewarding, it’s well paid and it takes me all over the world, and so long as I don’t actually think about it I have a great time.’
‘What,’ Ellie says, ‘and then you think about it?’
‘Then I think about it and I think, What the fuck would my young self think of this? I mean, my young self was several tenths an idiot, but at least I had ideals back then.’
‘Your young self would appreciate the glitz and the travel and lifting your head to stare up at a night sky fixed into place by a building you’d lit.’
‘Yeah, but maybe that’s just nostalgia,’ she suggests. ‘Maybe you just associate me with all that. And all that’s gone. All that had to go, one way or the other, because we all have to grow up. Even daft boys. Even you, Stewart.’