Review: The Business by Iain Banks

I got this book as a gift from my great Internet friend Tracy – thank you very much my dear, I do appreciate your kindness!

Form: paperback
Genre: contemporary fairy tale
Target audience: adults
Pages: 393
Publisher: Abacus Fiction


Kathryn Telman, is a very successful businesswoman in her late thirties. She’s managed to make a great career and she is definitely on her way up in the Business, a mysterious, very old, very rich consulting/investing company which once owned for a short period of time the whole Roman Empire. Yes, you read it right, THE Roman Empire – they are that old and rich.

While enjoying her sabbatical year Kathryn is contacted by another colleague who has an unusual problem – somebody has extracted his teeth, quite a lot of them, and no, it wasn’t a sad result of a pre-arranged visit to a dentist – and he has to go to Japan the very next day to sign a very important agreement. You see, the Business wants to acquire its own country to own a seat on the United Nations and the whole process needs careful preparations and a bit of deception. Why somebody wanted to steal that guy’s teeth in the process, though?

All of a sudden Kathryn is nominated to head to a little exotic Himalayan country called Thuhn (fictional of course) – the very country the Business have selected as their newest purchase – to judge the impact the transaction would have on the citizens. Meanwhile she is approached with some blackmail material that could change the course of her life as it concerns a married man she’s been deeply in love with. It’s up to her what she is going to do with it. A coincidence or a subtle pressure? Then the prince who officially rules Thuhn proposes to her and she cannot believe it was a completely unpremeditated act either. The longer she thinks about her situation the more sure she is that something is going wrong at the very top. She decides to get to the bottom of it and minimize the fall out before anyone gets hurt.

What I liked:

First let me tell you that I did enjoy the idea behind the plot. The Business is written in the first person so from Kate’s point of view, peppered with various telephone and email conversations which indicate aspects of Kate’s life that she isn’t narrating herself. It shows how things are done in big corporations. Mind you Kate doesn’t feel as if she was a powerless little worker who is struggling against an evil machine of bureaucracy; she is the willing, sometimes even enthusiastic participant, and a skilled professional; her corporation can be hardly called evil, there are no huge conspiracies, threatening the well-being of humankind just the ordinary power struggle done discreetly under the carpet. Such a take is rather unique.

What I didn’t like:

My first problem: I couldn’t relate to the main character. Not really. Mr. Banks seems to have little idea of how a smart, modern and attractive young woman might think and operate; instead I suppose he projected on to her the rollicking lifestyle of a rich young Scotsman, complete with party dope smoking, endless drinks, meals out, an occasional roll in the hay etc. For example one moment she is sleeping around with her handsome chauffeur, a boy half her age, the other moment she is begging her beloved Stephen to f**k her (I quote her request verbatim here) despite the fact that she knows pretty well he has a family and is determined to stay faithful to his wife. Her musical tastes seem to be as incongruous as her personal life. Well, either she is a responsible adult, ready to settle down and marry ‘the right guy’, or she is still a wild girl always looking for a good opportunity to drag somebody to bed. Choices, choices.

My second problem with this book was that I didn’t manage to grasp of what this story is really about. Is it a parable trying to discredit the corporate world of international business? Is it about surviving on overwhelming capitalist power through duplicity? Is it about human relationships, disrupted intimacy, lost happiness and misplaced loyalty? Or is it just about a prince seeking desperately a princess and vice versa?

By the end, there aren’t any answers. You are left feeling a little cold, as if you visited the Himalayas without proper clothes. Although some hot plot lines are introduced they disappear to the sidelines. Some motives never get off the ground. With a bit more discipline, this could have really rocked; unfortunately it didn’t. Not to me, anyway. Actually I suppose this novel would make a great novella – a tight, exciting and fun rollercoaster of not more than 100 pages. As it was, I had to skip some text here and there because I was bored. The worst part? The courtship of the Thuhn prince (let me just tell you that the prince behaves as if he lived in the 19th century) and all the pages devoted to Kate’s globe trotting, where we are told in excruciating detail about her in-flight experiences, buying warm clothes, admiring a backside of a flight attendant, getting her meals, meeting whoever…as if I was so horribly interested in somebody else’s life.

Final verdict

Allegedly it is not the best position of this author and I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. However, it was loads better than my first encounter with Mr. Banks – that book I bought a year ago was a DNF just after several pages. I still want to read something by this author but I admit, next time I will go only for the very best.

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