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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Business

by
Iain Banks


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Business



Title: The Business
Author: Iain Banks
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 393 pages
Availability: The Business - US
The Business - UK
The Business - Canada
Le Business - France

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Our Assessment:

B : some fun ideas, and engagingly presented, but sputters towards the end

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 10/8/1999 Adam Lively
The LA Times . 21/11/2000 Michael Harris
The NY Times Book Rev. . 17/12/2000 Peter Bicklebank
The Observer . 15/8/1999 Matt Thorne
TLS . 13/8/1999 Robert Potts


  Review Consensus:

  Most find things to praise about it, but don't find it convincing as a whole

  From the Reviews:
  • "For the first 300 pages or so, all this is set up very nicely. The narrator, now developing her own doubts about the ethics of The Business, has engaged our interest. We have been treated to some interesting digressions on Buddhism and the corporate life. And then the novel collapses like the proverbial soufflé. It is as though Iain Banks had run out of steam, or interest, or time. (...) (T)he thrillerish sub-plot is left in a most untidy state: its loose ends dangling behind a mist of vagaries; more hole than loop. The journey is hopeful, the arrival a let-down." - Adam Lively, Daily Telegraph

  • "The Business is a thriller and a satire on global capitalism, but readers will enjoy it most as a series of conversational riffs." - Michael Harris, The Los Angeles Times

  • "But the final third becomes less interesting. Until this point, the voice of Banks's narrator is pitch-perfect. Kathryn, his narrator, is initially convincing, psychologically well-rounded with a compelling set of motivations. Towards the end, her voice slips. (...) The final chapter is the weakest (...) But judging Banks by the high standards he deserves, this seems a limp conclusion to an otherwise intellectually exhilarating book." - Matt Thorne, The Observer

  • "This soft-heartedness disables The Business. The heroine, Kate, is frankly unbelievable (.....) The Business, while it is decently written and sometimes amusing, is nowhere near as entrancing; in this novel, sadly, Banks seems to have lost the plot." - Robert Potts, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Business begins fairly horrifically: the narrator, Kathryn Telman, receives a telephone call from a colleague who just woke up to find that half his teeth have been removed from his mouth. Randomly (but professionally) plucked out, an act that appears completely irrational.
       It is a mystery that eventually gets resolved, though it is not at the fore for much of the novel -- merely an early attention grabber. The story focusses on Kathryn, a high-level executive in the Business, a mega-company that's been around for thousands of years and is devoted simply to capitalistic success. Oriented towards the long-term they don't greedily try to earn a fast buck, but rather develop long-term relationships and show some concern for the world of the future. The Business is also a fairly secretive conglomerate, but not too sinisterly so.
       Kathryn was plucked from impoverished obscurity in Scotland as an enterprising young child by a Business-executive, who provided schooling and the like and then helped Kathryn get a start in the Business, where she has had great success. She is also single, with many suitors but only one true love -- her colleague, Stephen, who is unfortunately married.
       The book centres around a new Business-plan: they're finally ready to buy a country, for the benefits that come with nationhood. A UN seat, diplomatic passports, that sort of thing. The focus seems to be on a sinking island, Fenua Ua, but in fact they have their eyes set on Himalayan kingdom Thulahn. Prince Suvinder Dzung seems open to the idea of such a corporate takeover -- and he also has his eyes on Kathryn.
       Kathryn is enjoying a sabbatical-year, but still does a bit of work here and there. She is asked to consider assuming a position in Thulahn, to determine what the impact of a Business-takeover would be, and so she heads there to take a look around. Along the way she also stumbles across some odds and ends of odd Business doings that don't seem quite right to her. Is there a conspiracy afoot ? Is the business getting Couffabled ?
       The book proceeds in easy, interesting fashion. Banks writes very well, and the first part of the book is remarkable and very entertaining, just flowing along nicely and cleverly. The descriptions of the Business and Kathryn's own rich life are a treat, and the spectre of darker things lurking in the background keeps a reader on edge.
       Things unfortunately get a bit more pedestrian as Banks sends Kathryn off to Thulahn and as the Business-woes come to light. There's a CD with information about Stephen (or rather his wife) that Kathryn watches far too often, and there are too many descriptions of Himalayan travel and life. The conspiracy isn't a bad one, but seems almost tacked on, as if Banks wasn't sure what he wanted the book to be -- a hi-tech capitalist thriller or a more character-focussed story about Kathryn.
       The Business is still a fun read, but its first half is so much stronger than the second that it feels disappointing. Still, Banks really does write engagingly and well, and it makes a good beach or airplane read (unless, of course, one is flying in a small plane ...).

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Links:

Reviews: Iain Banks: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Iain Banks has written numerous acclaimed novels.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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