The Mark of Cain & Stonemouth

I read Long Lankin, the book that preceded The Mark of Cain and really enjoyed it so I  picked this one up when I saw it.  The Mark of Cain serves as both a prequel and a sequel, as it were, to Long Lankin.  It explains the history of Cain Lankin  from the point of view of the woman who loved him, Aphra, and then jumps to the events that take place after Long Lankin.   Cain and Aphra’s back story is so compelling that it makes the reader empathize with them even while realizing they are the villains in the end.

The transitions between points of view and time period is very clear and easy to follow.  I will say that I am glad I read Long Lankin first because the characters were familiar to me and that was helpful.  The writing is just excellent.  This is English folk horror at its finest.  Dripping, damp and earthy atmosphere riddled with references to ash groves, manikins, iron, witch bottles, runes, bone magic, and charms makes for a dark and moody read.  Highly recommended for horror fans.

Stonemouth is my second Iain Banks novel.  I read The Wasp Factory not long after his death and although I found it very well written I was really disturbed by all the animal cruelty in it.  Stonemouth is nothing like The Wasp Factory, in fact is difficult to believe it was written by the same  author.

In Stonemouth, a young man is returning home to a town that is rife with corruption ruled by two crime family clans.  He left home 5 years ago, escaped really, and now must return for the funeral of one of the heads of the clans.   He has made a huge success of his life after leaving this close knit community.  The crime families still seem to have their fingers in all the goings on everywhere.  He has since graduated art school and has been made partner in some type of architectural firm lighting buildings.

His visit home is causing him to reflect back  upon his life.  The woman he left behind.  The life, family, and friends he left behind. His art, which he is not really pursuing except in a very corporate manner, etc.  It is as though he is having this huge mid-life crisis, except he is 25, so I guess it is a quarter-life crisis.  I just didn’t feel that a young man who left home at 20 and has only been gone 5 years, five years that have been spent going to school and traveling the world, beginning his career; he just this minute made partner, would be all full of wistful reminiscing and regretful longing.  He seems pretty attached to the “toys” his success has brought him, his phone, his nice clothes, access to pretty young women,  etc.   He also seems very anxious to avoid the real thugs that prowl the roadways and pubs of his hometown.  I think this would have worked better, if he came back  20 years later or more.  Some of this would have been more believable at 40 or even older than at 25, especially given the ending of the book.

My  other issue really is that nothing really happens.  I don’t really care about the protagonist or his old girl friend and her sister and their thuggish family.  The events in the town are just not that interesting, even ones that should be, like the pool room scene. I have no doubt that Iain Banks is a talented writer, but this didn’t work for me.