BanksRead 2021: Espedair Street (1987)

The dead end just off Lonely Street

It’s where you go, after Desperation Row

Espedair Street

I had my first taste of Iain Banks’s work last year with The Crow Road and was glad to have an excuse to read more by him for Annabel’s BanksRead challenge.

I chose Espedair Street, which was in surprisingly high demand at my local library: I was in the middle of a queue of five people waiting for a novel released nearly 35 years ago! Luckily, the system’s single copy came in for me in early April.

This was Banks’s fourth novel. I recognized the Glasgow and western Scotland settings and witty dialogue as recurring elements. The Scottish dialect and slang were somehow easier to deal with here than in books like Shuggie Bain. Daniel Weir (nicknamed “Weird”) is a former rock star, washed up though only in his early thirties and contemplating suicide. He has all the money he could ever want, but his relationships seem to have fizzled.

Dan takes us back to the start of his time with the band Frozen Gold in the 1970s. He acknowledges that he only ever had limited musical talent; although he can play the bass well enough, his real gift is for lyrics. Songwriting was mostly what he had to offer when he met bandmates Dave and Christine after their gig at the Union:

What am I doing here? I thought once more. They don’t need me, no matter how good the songs are. They’ll always be heading in different directions, moving in different circles, higher spheres. Jesus, this was life or death to me, my one chance to make the great working class escape. I couldn’t play football; what other hope was there to get into the supertax bracket?

Boldly, he told them that night that they were a good covers band but needed their own material, and he had sheaves of songs at the ready. From here, it was an unlikely road to a world tour in 1980, but a perhaps more predictable slide into the alcohol abuse and gratuitous displays of wealth that will leave Dan questioning what of true value he retains.

Dan’s voice, as in the passage above, is mischievous yet confessional. The sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll theme made me think of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six, a rather more enjoyable novel for its interview format and multiple perspectives, but both include pleasing made-up lyrics. Here Dan’s frequent use of ellipses threatened to drive me mad. It might seem a small thing but it’s one of my pet peeves.

I think I’ll make The Bridge my next from Banks – my library owns a copy, and he called it his favourite of his books.

Do check out all of Annabel’s coverage from the past week: she’s given a great sense of the breadth of Banks’s work, from science fiction to poetry.

10 responses

  1. I read this as one of my 20 Books of Summer last year and quite enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Quite” is the word — I think I was hoping for more, based on my enjoyment of The Crow Road. But I definitely want to try more by Banks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Espedair Street – Rebecca at Bookish Beck […]

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  3. Thank you so much for joining in #BanksRead2021. When Espedair Street was first published it was in a league of its own in terms of sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll novels. I did read it twice, but some time ago. I’m slightly scared it might not live up to current standards should I read it again now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly shows his range, at least.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There are a couple of Banks’ books sitting on the bookshelves, unread, on the basis that they’ll still be there tomorrow if there’s nothing else in the queue. You are definitely suggesting they should move themselves more actively into the queue!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, which ones have you got? I can’t claim to be an expert, but The Crow Road was a great read, and Annabel’s blog has lots of other ideas.

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  5. I really didn’t know anything about Iain Banks until now. Thanks to this post, I looked him up and learned more about him. His books sound worth a try! I know we have several at the library…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He wrote in so many different genres that I feel certain most readers would find something that appeals to them. The Crow Road is long (500 pages), but I really enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing these wonderful opportunities.

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