Finished The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks (no M.). Pretty poor, actually. It features an extended-family business, who make a board game turned computer game called "Empire". Alban, a family member who's dropped out and become a forester is persuaded to attend a big meeting where they're to discuss selling out to big corporation.
Most of the book consists of two series' of flashbacks, mixed in with current events, showing Alban's relationships with two women. The problem is that these relationships are immensely dull. One is a thwarted teen romance that you'd think he'd really be over by his thirties. The other is an oh-so-quirky relationship with a mountain-climbing, fast-driving, beautiful but never wears makeup, female mathematician who doesn't want exclusivity in the relationship. It all seems depressingly Richard Curtis down to meet-cute clichés and an ordinary, troubled protagonist somehow ending up with a fabulously attractive partner who seems totally out of their league to the reader/viewer.
There also seems to be a lack of the usual imagination in terms of scenes and settings from Banks. "The Business" had memorable scenes like that aboard a ship heading for the wrecking beach, and the Ferrari-torturing scene. "Espedair Street" had a washed-up Seventies musician living in a church surrounded by bulldozers and East European trade goods from a bizarre record deal. Garbadale seems pretty bland by comparison.
Recommendation: Skip this one. His previous book "The Algebraist" was good so this is hopefully a glitch rather than a decline.
What I'm Watching
Saw Belleville Rendezvous (aka The Triplets of Belleville) on DVD. Pretty good. Excellent, atmospheric animation. Especially liked the brilliant opening sequence. Not an awful lot of laughs though.
Even fewer laughs in Letters from Iwo Jima which I saw at the cinema. Tells the story of the defence of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view: all the dialogue is in Japanese with subtitles, though it was directed by Clint Eastwood. Pretty intense and moving in places. Could have benefited from cutting though: it drags on a bit and people behind me started yapping away in the last half hour.
Saw Bamako in a nice quiet cinema. The IMF and the World Bank are put on an informal trial, which is intercut with scenes from daily life. Pretty much what you'd expect. Some decent and impassioned sequences, but not really providing a coherent case against the institutions; nor explaining why the institutions should be put on trial rather than the nations and principles behind them, or the policies that the institutions are carrying out.
Essentially I think the reason is that there's a degree of inconsistency in the attacks. On the one hand, the institutions are the bad guys because they allowed the African nations to run up massive debts in the past; on the other hand they're the bad guys for not allowing the African nations to run up more debts at the present. By attacking the institutions rather than the policies, you can disguise the fact that you don't have a consistent view on what's wrong with the policies.
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