“The Crow Road” by lain Banks
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In the novel ‘The Crow Road’ by lain Banks there are four deaths which I feel are very important. However, the death which I feel is most significant in the novel is that of Prentice’s father, Kenneth. This death is significant because it is relevant to the development of Prentice’s character, the themes in the novel and the method of narration.
In the beginning of the novel the main character, Prentice McHoan is set almost a quest by his Grandma, who has died, to find out what has really happened to his uncle and her son Rory .Rory disappeared years ago and no-one knows if he is dead or alive. During the novel Prentices father, Kenneth dies and this leaves Prentice feeling distraught as this means he will never be able to resolve the ongoing feud between him and his father over religion and their beliefs. By the end of the novel Prentice and the reader find out Rory had been murdered years ago.
I feel Kenneth’s death is very significant as it affects and develops Prentice’s character. At the beginning of the novel we see a very immature Prentice, who does not seem to care about his studies at University and is drinking quite a bit, ‘1 was drunk. It was getting on towards midnight. ..1′ d had about ten pints of export…Swilling back the Urvill’s whisky for a significant part of the afternoon.’
This turns out to be typical of Prentice’s behaviour and attitude at this time.[a7]We are also shown his ‘love’ for his cousin Verity. Although he really does think he loves her it is clear to the reader it is merely infatuation, ‘Verity walker. Eating my heart out. Consuming my soul.’ ‘I’m in love. I love her. I’m hers…take me. Put me out of my misery. O God. ‘
This sort of over the top language shows it is just infatuation compared to that of his more mature love for Ashley later in the novel, ‘…suddenly say I love you. ..felt like the most natural thing in the world to say. ..’
Prentice’ s jealousy of his older brother, Lewis, is another example of his immaturity. Lewis is a reasonably successful stand up comedian and Prentice is consumed with jealousy over his big brother’s success, ‘my elder sibling was in fact a vainglorious egomaniac with a runaway sarcasm problem’ and when Lewis gets together with Verity , Prentice resents him for it, ‘But they can’t… They couldn’t do this to me.’ The fact that he emphasises the “to me” also reflects his immaturity as if he believes he is the most important thing and it is as a personal slight to him that they have fallen in love.
One of Prentice’s close friends, Darren Watts, is killed near the beginning of the novel and this is the main reason he and his father, Kenneth, fallout. Kenneth has always told his children that there is no god, no heaven. However, when Darren dies Prentice just can not believe there is not anything; he feels there has to be a god or at least something and this almost helps console him,
‘1 can’t believe he’s just gone like that ….I can’t believe there isn’t something left, some sort of continuity.”
He had loved Darren and felt he had such a great personality that it could not be snuffed out all at once. When Kenneth is killed while drunk with Prentice’s uncle Hamish, Prentice feels extremely hurt and distraught as he will never be able to make up with his father and this is, I feel, the turning point in Prentice’s character.
“I found that my eyes were full of tears…and my cheeks were wet with them”
He had loved his father and realizes that now he will never be able to make up with him over the petty row that had kept them apart over the past months, a row which he had been “too embarrassed to end.”
After his death Prentice realises that his father was right about religion, ‘They were here and then they weren’t, and that was all there was. My father had the right of it.”
When Kenneth dies it almost ignites something within Prentice and he puts his heart and soul into finding out what happened to Rory. He finds documents of his father’s which lead him to the conspiracy and cover up of Rory’ s death. He shows how much he has developed in maturity when he is brave enough to confront Fergus when he realises he is his uncle Rory’s murderer. ‘1 told Ashley about the horrible…head.’ By this time he has managed to get over his ‘true love’ Verity and her marriage to his elder brother, Lewis, and is actually happy for them,
“1 thought of Verity and Lewis. ..wished them well.”
This is a massive turn around from the character we are shown in the beginning. He even says later
“Look at me I’m studying, I’m living quietly, I’m coming home to my mother every weekend.”
There is no doubt this change has been brought about by his father’s death.
Moreover, Kenneth’s death is also very significant as it plays a very big part in the themes of the novel which deal with both death and religion. We see through his father’s death that Prentice finally realises that there is nothing after death,
‘They were here and then they weren’t. ..all there was.’
He has finally come to realize and accept the finality of death. However, in the beginning of the novel Darren’s death had made Prentice turn to religion as a way of coping with his grief. When Prentice finally agrees with his father’s views he realises that although there is nothing after death we still continue after death in our children’s genes,
‘We continue in our children, in our works and in the memories of others”. He realises “Death was change; it led to new chances, new opportunities ..it was not all loss”.
As well as our children’s genes we carry on in such things as our works and what we have done to be remembered for. Banks, through Prentice is showing us that death is not the end and when we die we leave space and opportunity for other people and their lives.
We are also shown how Kenneth has always discussed religion with his children in their youth and tried to bring them up, like himself, as atheists, ” ‘But dad, Mrs. MacBeath says there is a God. ‘Mrs. MacBeath is an idiot'”
He believes that religion is just politics, ‘Religion is politics.’ It is a way of controlling society with a promise of an afterlife if they put up with the trials of this one. By the end of the novel we realise that lain Banks, the author is actually an atheist and it is he who is trying to convey his religious beliefs through the main character.
Moreover the method of narration is partly dictated by the death of Kenneth. The novel has several different methods of narration: it is narrated principally by Prentice in the first person; in the third person in the form of flashbacks and again in the third person in the form of extracts from a novel that Rory was writing before he disappeared. The novel begins with Prentice narrating the events at his grandmother’s funeral some months previously. “It was the day my grandmother exploded”. I feel, writing in first person in this part of the novel makes it effective as you know what Prentice is thinking and feeling and can relate to him as he goes through the traumas which he faces with the deaths of so many people he loved.. There are then flashbacks to the recent past. This is important as it gives us an unbiased view of events in Prentice’s childhood.When Kenneth McHoan dies the method of narration changes again to first person, from the viewpoint of Prentice and this is when we see the change in his character. lain Banks also uses third person narrative to give excerpts from Rory’s novel and the past when Kenneth was a child, e.g. “Kenneth watched Fergus shake with anger.” Because he does this we get insights into Kenneth and Fergus’s characters that Prentice could not know and this helps us understand them as adults.