Iain Banks is a multi-generic, multi-task dream. On one hand, he's produced a series of science fiction novels (Feersum Endjinn, Inversions) that have achieved cult status in his native Britain. On the other hand, he has dipped into the world of contemporary fiction with a number of equally successful works (The Bridge, Complicity). Fans of both rely on Banks's acidic wit, elegantly clever prose, and sometimes befuddling but always fascinating plot twists. |
The Business, a sly satire of corporate success, begins with every promise of fulfilling those standards. Kathryn Telman, "a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top) in a commercial organization which has had many different names through the ages but which, these days, we usually just refer to as the Business," has been selected to negotiate the Business's purchase of the sovereign state of Thulahn (where "the royal palace is heated by yak dung" and the "national sport is emigration"). Corporate takeovers are small potatoes compared to the acquisition of an entire country, and Kathryn's politely scheming superiors have set their sights on a seat at the United Nations and the "unrestricted use of that perfect smuggling route called the diplomatic bag."
Kathryn's voice, at once polished and gritty, is the novel's strongest point. Her wry dissections of the Business, its motives and ambitions, its members, and the delightful irony of negotiating with Thulahn's crown prince (who is more interested in matrimony than marketeering) are sheer reading pleasure. And the notion of an ancient, omnipotent, secretive corporation is a great starting point for any number of stories. But The Business is, sadly, next to bankrupt on the level of plot. Of the two storylines that structure the novel (the takeover of Thulahn and Kathryn's growing suspicion of high-level fraud), neither amounts to much. Their development and resolution, such as they are, seem so haphazard that the reader might wonder whether Banks just lost interest in his own story.
For dedicated Banks fans, The Business may not be on a par with his other outings, but the pleasure of his prose is nonetheless satisfying. Newcomers to the Banks mystique, having no points of reference, may be well content with his arch humor and forceful characterization.
Source: Kelly Flynn, Amazon.com.