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am 18. November 2000
When I first came across this novel, it was adapted on the radio. The adaptation did not do this book the slightest bit of justice however. I can't think how they could have effectively done the opening passage with a single reader.
The opening is hilarious. A business exec on a mobile phone who's just had half his teeth taken out after a night on the town, trying to convince our heroine, Kate Telman, that he is not drunk. Although this is played for laughs, it does become more significant later on. Kate works for The Business, an almost anonymous but all-powerful corporation. She's been an employee for years, and even she finds it difficult to keep abreast of all its activities. It's a strange company, in that it leanings towards democracy. Lower employees can decide who their bosses are going to be. However, this is not quite the workers' paradise that it might appear. It seems as though The Business is a hybrid between a nation state and a large corporation. It's here where Banks appears to be most visionary. No doubt he's referring to all those big business protests in Seattle and the like, that whole mysterious global corporate cabal thing. However, The Business itself has been around for centuries. It even once owned the Roman Empire for 66 days. Banks is to be applauded for digging up of the story of Didius Julianus, a man who really did buy Caesar's crown - only to lose his head, poor thing.
The current day Business does not seem to have learned from too much from their past folly however, as they're still determined to buy a state. Owning your own state makes gaining diplomatic immunity just that wee bit easier, and can even get you a seat on the United Nations. Thus Kate is sent to Thulahn, a Himalayan principality, in order to do some reconnoitring and to assess how the Thulahnese will react to The Business. It doesn't help that the Prince is madly in love with her, and that his mother is certainly batty. Kate, used to all the amenities of modern life, didn't take to Thulahn on her previous visit there. However, a little civilisation has seemed to encroach there, with the local merchants now accepting credit cards. Preoccupying Kate is her love for an impossibly noble American man, something that exposes her directly to a hint of corruptness in The Business. There's also the fact of her humble roots, and the impossibly sweet street urchins of Thulahn. And then there's a dash of mystery of just what is going on in that microchip factory in Motherwell? Why has Kate really been sent to Thulahn?
There's a couple of passages where Kate discusses her own morals and that of The Business with her fellow executives which are really quite really quite revealing (like that old chestnut about going back in time and killing Hitler before he did any real harm). But Kate seems most open when discussing issues with her therapy ridden American girl friend. However, as Kate stumbles on a conspiracy, she begins to wonder who she can really trust. Swiss road regulations may now make all the difference between life and death. Maybe watching too much trashy cult TV has made her paranoid... Kate must make the most difficult decision in her life: whether to be honest, or to look away. Whether to be selfish or compassionate...
Iain Banks has written an extremely witty and hilarious novel. Okay, so it may not be to the taste of some Banks aficionados, but this is one writer who never does what his audience expects, and long may he continue surprising. This comedy thriller is highly entertaining and extremely compelling. The fact that the pages whizz by has much to do with the sheer joy of the writing, not a lack of substance, as some critics would have you believe. And Kate is a completely convincing and well-constructed character, one of Banks' best and least angst ridden. Of course, it's all a conspiracy led by the World Banks. This World Class Banks clearly had fun writing this novel, and I had great fun reading it. Perfect.
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am 26. September 2001
After his first attempt with a "female" protagonist (The Wasp Factory), Iain Banks this time delves into the mind of a modern successful woman working for the (fictitious) most powerful company on earth, the eponymous Business. While the business is trying to buy its own country and accompanying seat it the United Nations, our protagonist is trying to get her personal life - especially her love life - into some semblance of order. This happens in an almost Ally McBeal-like manner and is amusing enough, although clichés are rampant. On the whole this is Banks' weakest performnce since "Song of Stone", but being Banks that makes it still a worthwhile read and leagues beyond much of his contemporaries.
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