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The Crow Road
The Crow Road is a novel by the Scottish writer Iain Banks, published in 1992.
A pivotal period in Prentice McHoan's life is described, seen through his preoccupations with death, sex, his relationship with his father, unrequited love, sibling rivalry, a missing uncle, relationships, cars, drink (and other intoxicants) and God, with the background a celebration of the Scottish landscape.
This Bildungsroman is set in the fictional Argyll town of Gallanach (by its description, reminiscent of Oban but on the north east shore of Loch Crinan), the real village of Lochgair, and in Glasgow where the adult Prentice McHoan lives. Prentice's uncle Rory has disappeared eight years previously while writing a book called The Crow Road. Prentice becomes obsessed with papers his uncle left behind and sets out to solve the mystery. Along the way he must cope with estrangement from his father, unrequited love, sibling rivalry, and failure at his studies.
The estrangement from his father concerns belief in God or an afterlife. Prentice cannot accept a universe without some higher power, some purpose; he can't believe that people can just cease to exist when they die. His father dogmatically denies the existence of God, universal purpose, and the afterlife.
A parallel plot is Prentice's gradual transition from an adolescent fixation on one young woman to a more mature love for another.
Prentice's efforts to piece together Uncle Rory's fragmentary notes and the minimal clues surrounding his disappearance mirror his efforts to make sense of the world, love, and life in general. The narrative is also fragmentary, leaping days, months, years, or decades back and forth with little or no warning, so the reader must also piece things together.
Literary significance and criticism
The novel combines menace (it contains an account of a "perfect murder") and dark humour (note the opening sentence: "It was the day my grandmother exploded.") with an interesting treatment of love. Banks uses multiple voices and points of view, jumping freely in both time and character. Even minor characters like Prentice's grandmother, the fictional town of Gallanach, and his family's home in Lochgair receive careful description, giving Prentice's life depth and context.
The book follows Prentice's journey of discovery about himself, those he loves, and the ways of the world.
"The Crow Road", as explained in the book, as well as applying to a real-life street in the west of Glasgow, is an expression for death, as in "He's away the Crow Road". The appropriateness of this title becomes apparent as the novel progresses.
The Crow Road was adapted for television by Bryan Elsley for the BBC in 1996. See The Crow Road.
The Crow Road, Iain Banks, Abacus, 1992, ISBN 0-349-10323-2