Whit by Iain Banks: A Book Review


I liken Iain Banks- along with all writers who may resemble him- to a student inspired to be recognized as a prolific writer. To fulfil his ambition, with dogged determination, he applies to a publishing company submitting all the samples of his works. The top banana is impressed by his latent talent, but turns him down because he finds Banks’ works subjective to plagiarism. Nevertheless, he will be given a chance to work for the company as a protégé, commissioned to write a story for a literary magazine, instead.

I.Banks buries himself in coming up with a cluster of ideas. He makes sure that all his ideas are the figments of his outlandish but advanced imagination. Fortunately, his left hand is as handy as his exceptional ability to weave beautiful prose. He keeps on writing down whatever the train of thoughts rumbling through the tunnel of his mind. As a result, his sentences are more emphatic and riveting than the contents of his stories. However, he comes to realize that writing exquisite sentences does not get anywhere. He needs to embellish them with a story that his readers will find engaging. He will experiment on his convoluted plots which he is not sure of whether they will pan out or not, whether his readers will buy them or not. He will be at his wits’ end, and decide that he’d better focus on topping them with icing of his alluring and glamorous sentences. He predicts that his readers will still enjoy his book regardless of his ideas his readers will find banal. And he is right! In the long haul, his story will be one of those brightest galaxies in the literary universe. With the wisdom of hindsight, he realizes that to be a writer, he has to be creative by trying out his cornucopia of ideas. If he keeps on doing it ,and finds it consistent in the totality of his masterpiece, his writing skills will be extremely well-developed until he becomes a full-fledged writer who will be recognized as one of the best imaginative writers in his generation. Eventually, the publishing company who puts him on probation will now take him by the storm as if he were about to be carved on the pedestal and groomed to pit against the other unbeatable writers.

My analogy between Iain Banks and that hard-driving student above is the fruit of my impression of WHIT, along with his other novels I have read. I have proven my observation that he had this audacious skills in making the story more absorbing despite that the story could be drudging and colourless. It seemed like he was keen to carry out an experiment whether the plot we may not be familiar with yet will sell like a hot cake or not. No wonder I enjoy reading every ravishing line, deeply immersed, insouciant to what will happen to the stories in the next chapter. In other words, Iain Banks may not have been cowed into contentment by taking the risk of writing a book he may not have been sure of its literary success. Lo and behold, his works became best-sellers. He could beat any big-timers in his generation.

There are some parts of the story  I was disappointed with.

First: Since I had worked up interest assuming that the story was all about a cult and Isis Whit, the cult-community-proclaimed Elect-God, would have a quest adventure for her apostate cousin, Morag, I recoiled in remonstrance when Morag turns out to be a porn star. Jeers! I had expected something more surprising than that. Instead, I suggest Morag decide to leave her religious group she has been committed to and live in the city. Then, she has become a liberal and hostile atheist who will lock horns with Isis, trying to brainwash her that the religion she is into turns out to be farcical.

Second: The twist that Morag and Isis will make it up to each other after the long, unclear misunderstanding. This twist is superficial and two-dimensional. What I felt from the beginning was that Morag did not want to meet Isis. Her mind has been poisoned by Isis’s brother, Allan. Her anger has been fed to the point that she hates Isis. Jeers! What I had expected was that they would split hairs. The scene would be intense. But nah!

Third: The ending surprised me. Since Isis’s grandfather, Salvador, the Founder, turns out to be a rapist and hypocrite, and she almost falls to his senescent sex urge, she still forgives him under some conditions she has drawn up to save the Order or the  cult which he has caused to convert a great deal of people. Jeers! What I had expected was that she would drag him out of the community and make his head hang in shame by divulging his dark side to the converts and the fake religion they are into. Then, the cult would frizzle away into complete oblivion. What a common but exhilarating plot!

If I. Banks was an atheist, but as far as I know he was, the novel could reflect his religious points of view. In fact, most of the settings are the ideas some prominent atheists -but notorious for some incorrigible religious people- have wanted to voice out. For example:

  • Religion shows a sense of arrogance because its believers are inculcated in the belief that only they will be SAVED.
  • Religion is a product, especially an avatar of mass hysteria. It is a delusion its believers consider normal, omnipotent, and omniscient. However, behind that circus door, there are logical explanations of which the believers may be ignorant.
  • Religion is a backward cult that revolts at the changes of human life.
  • Religion allows different practices of marriage.
  • Religion is a Luddite. (The cult strictly prohibits its believers from using phones and other machines alike.)
  • Religion abuses children.
  • Religion is a sexist.

On the other hand, if I.Banks was a passive atheist, the novel could suggest that no matter what the illogical reasons religion appears to have, for the communal interest, as long as the followers benefit them in a justifiable way, be it as it may stand. That’s how the ending goes. Isis Whit still chooses to save the face of the Order despite the disgrace her grandfather, the Founder, has brought.

This is now my fourth Iain Banks novel. Now I have figured out why his books are so gripping. He is so ingenious. His writing styles may suggest evidence of his blazing desire to learn how to be one of the best writers. So, what I feel now is that I am inspired to do the same thing and excited to read the other results of his literary experimentation.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.) 





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