It’s been a long while since I was gripped by The Wasp Factory, and thought it was time I returned to Iain Banks. A Song of Stone caught my attention as a post-apocalyptic tale – I’ve long been fascinated by such stories, having been hooked by the 70’s TV series Survivors and the 80’s adaption of Day of the Triffids as an impressionable child.
The story is told by a man fleeing his castle in the midst of a un-named war. Abel and his wife Morgan are captured by a band of soldiers led by the fierce and ruthless Lieutenant, who insists that her troops take over the castle. What follows is a battle for power as the Abel tries to subvert the Lieutenant’s authority, and she tries to topple everything he’s ever believed in. The results are shocking, gruesome, and inevitable. Abel’s very educated, privileged background makes him a not entirely sympathetic character; although his world has been invaded, as he tells his story it becomes clear that the rot and decay in the castle is not simply the result of the war, but of the system that caused it – and the rot in heart of him is inextricably linked to the stones within which he’s sought to protect himself.
This is a thought-provoking novel and the ambiguity surrounding the war gives it resonance, as it could be equally set in the distant past or the far future. While the violence is graphic, it is finely judged to create a sense of collapse in society and morality, and as such does not seem gratuitous. Like The Wasp Factory, this is a challenging book, and while disturbing in its concept, in execution it is both gripping and haunting. Rating: ****
Abacus, 1998, ISBN 9780349110110