Author: Iain Banks, 1995.
Genre: Comedy-Drama. Satire. Coming-of-age, Picaresque. Religion.
Other Details: Paperback. 455 pages.
Isis Whit is the 19-year-old granddaughter and designated spiritual heir of Salvador Whit, patriarch of the Luskentyrians. They are a religious cult guided by a set of tenets set down by Salvador in a book entitled the Orthography. Most members are based on a commune in Stirlingshire, living austerely and rejecting most aspects of technology. A few live in the outside world serving as missionaries. One of these is Isis' cousin Morag, who is scheduled to be the Guest of Honour at the Luskentyrian's four-yearly Festival of Love. So when she disappears after sending a letter renouncing her faith, it is decided that Isis will travel to London (Babylondon) to find her and hopefully bring her back into the fold in time for the festival.
This was an unexpected delight. I had really no idea what this book was about when it was voted in by one of my reading groups at a meeting I didn't attend. I admit to having mixed feelings when I heard as I had a notion that Banks' writing would be 'difficult'. So I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible this novel was and how quickly I took to his style and the story-line, which was both amusing and thought-provoking.
The novel is narrated by Isis and the reader learns of the history and day-to-day lives of the Luskentyrians as well as modern Britain through her innocent yet wise eyes. Isis' voice came through very clearly throughout the book and I just adored her. Even though Isis is centre stage, the novel is packed with memorable characters.
Everyone at the reading group meeting reported that they'd enjoyed it, which is fairly rare, and it generated a great deal of discussion about religion, especially those considered fringe religions or cults by mainstream society. We also recalled our favourite bits. While I was reading I had been reminded a little of one of my all-time favourite writers, Tom Robbins. Even though a different era and setting, his novels also are also full of eccentric characters, wild situations and social commentary, often on themes of religion and sex.
I feel inspired now to read more of Banks' writings.