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Book review: <i>The Business</i> by Iain Banks

Who doesn’t love a good corporate culture, big-business-against-the-underdog-who-discovers-high-ranking-conspiracy yarn? Well, The Business is sort of like that. But different. While it may not be Iain Bank’s finest, it sure beats The Firm

The story

Kathryn Telman is beautiful, in her late thirties, independently wealthy, and on her way up in the Business, which is her life. Coming from poor Scottish stock, she made her way up the corporate ladder using her wits and smarts, and, with some powerful friends, she has everything under control. Or does she? The Business wants to acquire its own country, to have a seat on the United Nations. Kathryn is nominated to head to the little country they have selected, to look at the impact their purchase would have on the citizens.

But something is wrong. While the way the business is styled leaves little opportunity for embezzlement, there are certain elements of this and some other deals that just aren’t adding up. And, when Kathryn is approached with some blackmail material that could change the course of her life, she knows that something is going wrong at the very top. And she is determined to get to the bottom of it, and minimise the fall out, before anyone gets hurt.

The style

One of the things I enjoyed about The Business was the way it was an a-typical story of power and individuals in the world of big business. Kate was not a powerless little man struggling against the evil corporation; she is, in fact, a willing member of the company with a shrewd business eye for detail and the ability to get information and go places. The corporation is not evil, although it is big, and the emphasis in on the individuals who make up the business, not the business as an entity. There are no huge conspiracies or other such things, just Kate figuring out something was off and then sorting it out using her power and influence. In these ways, The Business is a good read, and fairly unique in this plot.

The Business is written in the first person, from Kate’s point of view, interspersed with various telephone and email conversations which indicate aspects of Kate’s life that she isn’t narrating herself. There seems to be some awkwardness with Kate’s femininity, or woman-ness, if you like, possibly due to the fact that Iain Banks isn’t a woman. Her narration is generally quite believable, but there are certain grating aspects of her character (one of which being an awkwardness in her communication with friends and love interest and the other being her heavily emphasised taste in music). While jetsetting about the place, Kate listens to a variety of girly music, which would be more at home in the CD player of a young girl in the late nineties than a jetsetting go-getter of nearly forty. The purpose may have been to extend on Kate’s character, but I got the impression that maybe Iain Banks had been a little taken with the music references in American Psycho and decided that would be the window to Kate’s soul. Instead, her musical tastes were incongruous to the rest of her personality. She should have stuck to listening to operatic arias.

The story itself was interesting; the narrative included flashbacks from Kate’s past into the fairly linear structure, and the plot progressed with a decent pace. The story line was engrossing, easy to read, and aside from issues to do with Kate’s charater, well written. The ending, however, lacked a good solid punch. There were aspects of it that were too predictable, and, at the same time, I was left wanting to know about the bits that weren’t wrapped up.

Who is this book for?

People who would like a cut above the John Grisham corporate style. It isn’t Iain Bank’s best, but it’s still pretty good.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Try some of Iain Bank’s other books; while he writes weird and complex fantasy under the name Iain M Banks, he also writes non-fantasy such as Complicity.

In short

Title: The Business
Author: Iain Banks
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
ISBN: 0316848638
Year published: 1999
Pages: 288
Genre(s): Modern fiction
Review Type: