Friday, June 03, 2005

Banks, Iain. Raw spirit: In search of the perfect dram. London: Arrow, 2004. 366pp.

Yes, that Iain (M.) Banks. The noted sf and crime fiction author. Well, this one is a bit different. It's about scotch whisky. Thinks about it. The perfect job. Banks gets paid to travel around Scotland trying all the different whiskies to try and find the one he like best and then write a book about it. Tough life. Anyways, what's the book like. More a travelogue than a dry series of tasting notes, Banks concentrates more on the experience of driving around Scotland with a series of friends, visiting the various distilleries, telling the tall tales. Digressions abound, on subjects like midges, American politics, different kinds of cars, his friends life stories, Australian wine, more politics and his own working and personal. It's all told in a great breezy style, personal and intimate, like Banks is your friend sending you a letter from a trip somewhere. Engaging and witty, sometimes some of the stories drag, but the narrative pulls you through the slow bits. Maybe 40% of the book is actually about scotch, so if you were expecting something more focussed, you might want to give it a pass. Some handy features include an extensive bibliography of other whisky books and a scotch pronunciation guide.

A warning. I almost chucked the book through the window at the beginning, it made me so mad. Banks begins his tale right when the war in Iraq got under way. He spends a fair bit of time in the opening explaining his opposition, which is fine by me. The part that got me mad was right after, when he goes on and on about what a "petrol head" he is, how he loves driving around endlessly in his monster Land Rover Defender station wagon. This vehicle is so big, it doesn't have to pay the London downtown toll because it's classified as a bus. He seems like a bright guy, but the fact that he couldn't make the connection between the war in Iraq and people driving massively gas guzzling vehicles turned me off the book initially for quite a while.


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