We are reading The Quarry by Iain Banks together as a group. Anyone is welcome to join. This is the discussion thread for Chapter 1.
Deadline for Chapter 2 is next Friday, 20th of February, at 12:00 noon GMT. That is when a new thread will be created for the discussion of Chapter 2.
There are no real rules set for the course of discussion. I say good guidelines are: don’t be a dick, don’t spoiler things from further chapters and try to have a real conversation with others. I’m also not a leader and these are only my opinions.
Whew, here we go. I’m glad I waited till yesterday to read the first Chapter because the book just sucked me right in.
I have no idea how to start discussing a book with someone else, but I figured that instead of dumping every thought that came to my mind in this thread at once, this should be a conversation with multiple sides, so I’ll try to toss a few balls.
But I can’t say anything before I’ve established how much I felt I could relate to Kit (who I thought was a she, at first, and couldn’t shake that feeling throughout the chapter). I hope people won’t be annoyed if I’m going to be that person who is going on and on about how “that’s so me” - then again,I think we all will be reflecting ourselves to this story, as there are many characters to relate to, not to mention subjects and themes (death, cancer, decay, parenthood, media) that are close to many. I’m expecting (and hoping) that comparisons to our own lives will be common enough that starting off by mine won’t seem purely self-centric, because Kit truly represents the Asperger’s that I personally am familiar with and I want to explain how.
The book opens with Kit being told by Hal that he can’t say that he is clever. For most people, that is a basic social convention, but to some, they seem illogical. Navigating these rules (don’t say you’re clever) can be easy if you already know them, but doing it while trying to control your tone and expressions (don’t accidentally sound sarcastic or condescending) and actively deciphering layers of meanings (people never express themselves properly, and everyone does it differently) is what’s really challenging for people like Kit and I.
What is done right here is that you can see that Kit is trying. He knows he has to make allowances for people, he tried to remember to compliment people… yes, he’s more straight forward with his answers, like when he says that his father is still dying mater-of-factly, but unlike in some depictions of autism spectrum, he doesn’t act superior to the puny, illogically social beings around him. That is what bugs me about The Big Bang Theory; I’ve tried to give it a try when it’s been on TV and I could forgive it for not being terrible funny, but Sheldon is such an inconsiderate ass that it gives a bad name to nerds and autism alike.
Kit I could relate to more and more with each page. At first I thought he was a girl/woman (I suppose part of me hoped so, because you rarely see female character with these problems) and that feeling still strangely lingers - maybe it’s partly because of the name, but I feel he is also not written as overly masculine or feminine, you could switch out the pronouns in the first chapter and it probably wouldn’t matter. Also, I really liked what he said about group sizes, how the numbers have to be right. More than ten people, he says (on page 23):
“and I clam up anyway, confused by all the different voices and the interrupting and the trying to work out what people mean behind what they say and their facial expressions and body language are telling me”
That is how I feel too, though for me the cut-off is typically at 7-8 people (depending on their social energy), then I clam up. With 4-5 other people, it is just perfect. Too few people, and like Kit says:
“they seem to feel that they have to try to involve me in the conversation, because they don’t want me to feel left out, or because they don’t see why I should be able to listen in contributing something.”
Here’s a thought; a person with Asperger’s makes a fantastic narrator and central character. He’s an analytical observer, who looks at things from a different angle. He can be used as a vehicle to think or say things that would otherwise be inappropriate, and conversely, by not understanding some of the nuances of social situations or complicated human relations, he turns the spotlight on them even brighter.
I liked that the book didn’t come right out and say “this character has aspergers or is on the spectrum”, but did a great job illustrating that for the reader. As someone who isn’t on the spectrum, it was an eye opener. When they are talking about cleverness at the beginning, it kind of comes off as off-putting a bit for me - it could easily have slipped into the cardboard cutout type nerd you’re talking about with the Big Bang theory, but you quickly are able to emphathize with Kit as he attempts to navigate what’s considered “normal” social relationships. It brought me right back around, I think pretty quickly.
I too liked his internal dialogue in the scene where they are all sitting having a discussion, and Kit’s talking about crowds. I can relate to that, actually.
I totally agree with this, because he’s constantly having to step back and describe to himself what’s happening in any social situation in order to “properly” navigate it. I think it’s an interesting way to hook the reader. Plus, I think that people who don’t know anyone on the spectrum probably get their notions of Aspergers/Autism from things like The Big Bang or whatever. This is a nice counter point to that sort of thing.
Last, I have to say, the scenes talking about his dying dad were rather hard for me. Although I wasn’t providing primary care for my father as he died, I was there for the entire last week, essentially. It brought up some tough memories.
I already failed miserably at taking notes when reading this book. The idea of reading it so slowly and discussing each bit doesn’t come naturally to me. And now it’s two books in the past so I am going to suck at this - if someone who’s read it more recently can write a quick summary of the events of the chapters it’ll help me remember. Or I could read it again with the class, I guess
I just suck at doing stuff slowly…
However, I did scribble something down about chapter one. I have two words about chapter 6 you’ll have to wait for
Firstly, not knowing anything about the genesis of this book, I wondered if Guy’s cancer was something Banks wrote about following his own diagnosis, but it turns out he wasn’t even diagnosed until after he’d practically finished the first draft. Cancer isn’t something I’ve had a lot of experience of - although I lost one of my younger cousins to bowel cancer last year - but being in the US I hadn’t seen him in years. Something difficult for me to relate to, my main contact is with his sister and how she’s coping with losing her big brother. Being thousands of miles from all of your family isn’t really a great thing at times.
The autistic narrator was heavily reminiscent The Curious Incident… for me (or at least what I remember of it), and perhaps The Wasp Factory (again, what I remember, it was years ago when I read it) - so it doesn’t feel like such a stand-out writing device, but I don’t disagree with what @raita and @Mindysan33 have written. The social anxiety aspect of it I suspect everyone knows. I don’t really buy the idea that people are simply introverted or extroverted.
Everything else I had was just questions, really - where Banks was going to go with Kit’s mother, the nature of the relationship with Holly and where that was going, what the relevance of the quarry was going to be and what he was going to do with the HeroSpace idea.
I meant it when I said that I was willing to go with the group vote, but I’ll admit there were one or two books that ended up sounding more interesting to me. I’m so glad this book got picked instead, because now that I’m reading it I wish I could just race ahead and do it all for myself.
Excellent writer, first off. Really knows how to drop in tidbits of info so that you have to stay sharp to catch all the nuances. And some fabulous descriptive phrases! Most of all, we already perfectly understand the characters and back-story of every person we’ve met so far, as well as have a clear sense of what the journey we’re all embarking on is going to be…all in just 34 pages. Perfect balance between the opening and end of the chapter, too: oh, so that’s what Kit meant!..wait, what?
I’ve read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” and find this a much more engaging read. The protagonist here is closer to the cis side of the spectrum, which is certainly part of it, but I think Banks’s way of writing really helps the average reader start to understand how this different way of thinking makes perfect internal sense and thus is not “wrong”, simply non-conventional.
I too thought Kit must be a girl at first, and found it difficult to shake that even after finding out he’s apparently very tall and fairly large, and while I do generally think that would have been a more interesting character, from the hints of what’s to come that we have so far in the first chapter I get the feeling that him being male is appropriate.
I also found the autism aspect very well done and I really think the story (so far) wouldn’t have worked otherwise. He’s analyzing this gathering of old friends - a fairly cliche start - in a unique and interesting way, and in a way such that the reader can glean some insights that the narrator doesn’t realize himself - wholly realistic, cleverly; perfectly done.
That said, I think Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory deserves a little more analysis. I watched the first few seasons with a friend and I enjoyed it - it gets a lot of flak from “real nerds” about the stereotypes, but, I have a BSc and went to grad school in a scientific field and I knew people just like the characters. But, that’s beside the point (also, the stereotyping and writing got way worse in later seasons, and it’s so repetitive, and the characters are regressing instead of progressing - it’s definitely not worth watching anymore).
I want to get into this a little more because I think discussing depictions of autism in media is important considering how good it is in this book, and Sheldon is the most visible modern example. In fact, I see a lot of similarities between Sheldon and Kit, our narrator. This is somewhere on the spectrum where certain social inhibitions are weakened - despite what Kit says about groups, and how he prefers to just sit and watch instead of participate. Sheldon is obviously far more uninhibited but Kit seems completely uninhibited in those small groups he prefers, and of course especially with people he particularly likes.
Now, I am also on the spectrum and while I too am open and uninhibited with people I particularly like, I completely lack the extroverted/outgoing aspect that Sheldon and Kit have (selectively). Groups become a problem for me if it’s more than two people, including myself, though 4-5 people is OK (I just don’t say much). So perhaps it’s from my perspective as an introverted hermit that I see Kit and Sheldon being quite similar.
Of course, Sheldon is very snarky and rude, and you can tell that Kit tries very hard not to be like that. That’s actually one of the hardest things to deal with - knowing when you might be being rude (for me, I often realize in hindsight, and I beat myself up about it even when I know it doesn’t matter).
But they are both fundamentally good people - and this I think is a key insight that this book is doing a much better job of explaining (especially to people not on the spectrum) and that Big Bang Theory fails at (though it tries).
By narrating Kit’s inner world in great detail, you see how good he is, how generous, how loving. Writing this story from another character’s perspective, Kit would undoubtedly seem very different. Not that goodness isn’t clearly visible, but the way Kit expresses himself will seem more often bizarre than anything, and his lapses in social judgment (calling himself clever, for example) stick in the mind of others over the more subtle things.
That movie has been on my list for a while but haven’t seen it yet - big fan of Fry and Laurie (esp. Jeeves and Wooster but they’re always good).
Scout’s a classic tomboy so that makes sense, although that character’s identity is so ingrained in my mind by now that I can’t imagine it, heh. Really not sure why Kit seemed female, it wasn’t just the name.
That’s an interesting approach to exposition and character introduction: we’re introduced to everything through Kit’s eyes, and his impressions, and his limitations in expressing those impressions to us (although that may be taking the thing too far, since it’s not like he’s in a room with us readers, turning our uncomfortably attentive faces toward him, overwhelming him with our interest as we put him on the spot… it’s more like he’s relating the story to somebody he’s very comfortable with communicating with on his own level). So we don’t really know much about the characters in the house beyond what he has so far deemed interesting enough to share with us: their outward appearance, their clothing choices, how they make him feel. And it’s downright disorienting that we know absolutely nothing about Guy in this chapter until the bathroom scene. It’s almost like we’ve been shown a bunch of Christmas ornaments and a string of lights floating in the air, but we’re deliberately not shown the tree upon which they hang for as long as Banks can get away with it. Guy is the reason all these people know each other, and he’s largely a cipher to us so far. (Maybe that won’t change in later chapters; I haven’t read a word of Chapter 2 yet.)
I will have to take the word of other people that this is a fairly accurate representation of a mindset on the spectrum. My exposure to such things is, as far as I can tell, fairly minimal. I mean, my younger sister was born with Down syndrome, but her disability has always been pretty profound. Her cognition has never really exceeded that of a five-year-old. And though I’ve had several friends recommend Big Bang Theory to me in the past (though not in a few years), the only couple of times I’ve seen it I kinda hated it. And I’ve never read Curious Incident or any other books that I can think of that deal with such perspectives, nor am I aware of having worked with many people on the spectrum. (People in the entertainment industry usually seem tend toward the gregarious in my experience). So this all seems pretty new and unfamiliar to me. As a storytelling device, so far I like it. We know (maybe a bit more than usual) that not only are there things about the characters and events to come that we, the readers, have no knowledge of yet, but there are also things about those characters and events that Kit himself cannot fully understand, even if he unknowingly reveals insights about them to us that he himself is unable to notice.
That said, so far Banks seems to be winding the watch. Here is the house, here are the players, and we have a narrator who is the sort to offhandedly wonder, as an afterthought, if one of the other characters might be his mother.
That’s an efficiently baited hook. Now, what will come next?
ETA: it never occurred to me that Kit might be female. I can’t really explain why, but his thoughts and words just seem so fundamentally male to me.
I can see how that would be difficult. My mother passed away some fourteen months ago, and that was hard in many ways… but weirdly, I do identify with Kit in that regard. I have always been somewhat… well, I dunno, unsentimental about death, especially when it’s long-anticipated. My mother’s decline was long and uncomfortable… not so much agonizing as it was undignified and frustrating and uncomfortable for her. She was ready to end it several weeks before she actually passed, and I was the only one of her five surviving children who was willing to help her with that. We fully understood each other, she and I; I understood that her quality of life had permanently degraded beyond the point where she wanted to put up with it any longer, and she understood that I wasn’t eager to kill her or anything but was, rather, willing to help her put an end to that suffering. It never did come to that, as it happened, but it made for an awkward conversation or two among my siblings, some of whom seemed somewhat appalled that I’d volunteer to do such a thing, some of whom were openly grateful that I could.
I would answer questions about the impending death of a loved one somewhat like Kit did, albeit with a certain degree of sympathy and sensitivity toward the inquirer’s relationship with said loved one. I wouldn’t need to euphemistically soften the conversation for my own benefit, but rather I wouldn’t want to hurt someone else thereby.
But this could become a lengthy conversation about death, which might be a fascinating digression, but might not be a welcome conversation for everyone else, so I won’t pursue it further just now.
I’m not arguing that there are no decent people in the Tory Party, Hol says to Paul. I think she’s trying to keep calm now. ‘But they’re like bits of sweetcorn in a turd; technically, they’ve kept their integrity, but they’re still embedded in shit.’
Well if nothing else, one thing interesting that the book club has done is make some of us really think about some rather deep topics stemming from a single 30 pages in the book that don’t directly discuss those topics at much length. I think it’s definitely shaping up to have been a great choice.
So far so good! I certainly think the best is yet to come. Not much has happened so far, and that first chapter is all about presentation and just a spoonful of exposition, but Banks definitely reels one in.
Not much I can say about this chapter, waiting for something to happen I suppose.
One thing pinged for me, though. There’s a brief mention about a financial arrangement between Kit and Hol. Waiting for more explanation about the relationship between those two. Other than that, the whole death/terminal care thing is so far on the nail.
Yeah, I think the book started exceptionally well, You get a glimpse of how Kit thinks like, which is easy to understand and even relate to, without having to use a label or set him on any side of the autism spectrum right away. Kit comes off as a good person who struggles with certain aspects of life, and it give the rest of the book a good starting point.
I could tell that the scenes with Kit’s dying dad are going to hit really close to home for some people. And I can already tell that it’s going to get even more graphic and real in the later chapters. My parents are alive and well, and even though there’s been cancer in the family, it’s not a highly personal subject for me. But at the same time, I do know what it’s like to be around and close to someone who is sick and dying, My last partner had cystic fibrosis, and it was hard for me to learn to help him just enough, and let him do things on his own even if he struggled. Lots of time spent in the hospital, keeping company, learning to be patient. Watching someone close to you die takes it toll, but you don’t want to say it out loud because it feels selfish, it’s not you who’s dying.
I suggested The Curious Incident for the group, but now after realizing that most of us are already familiar with that novel, and having read the first chapter of the Quarry, I couldn’t be more glad with our choice. The Curious Incident features a main character who further on the autism spectrum than Kit, who in comparison seems fairly functional. It’s been a while since I read The Curious Incident, but while there are clear similarities, I think its focus was more on the disorder and the difficulties it caused, while in The Quarry it’s there on the background carrying the story forward, giving us a different view of the other characters.
I haven’t read The Wasp Factory (I’ve been meaning to!) and I didn’t know it had something to do with autism. But regardless of how common it is to use Asperger’s/autism as a literary device, I think it has been done well in The Quarry so far.
Me neither! Introverted/extroverted is such a bad way of describing someone’s social capabilities and social energy. We have different preferences, get along with different types of people, some burn out fast, some are quiet but have the patience for long or difficult social situations, and so on. It’s certainly not a two-dimensional line where people either are social or are not. I usually visualize it as several different stats, like how role playing games have, but that’s going too far off-topic and into my imagination.
The HeroSpace thing intrigued me, as did the nature of the characters and their relations with others. I already really like Holly, and am interested to know what Haze is like
I’m glad I’m not the only one! I still wish Kit was a woman (I don’t know what that says about me), but I’m willing to see what Banks has in store for the character.
I’ll admit that I haven’t watched The Big Bang Theory much, maybe five episodes in full plus at least as many episodes half-watching (it comes before the Simpons, and sometimes I leave the TV open while I do things on my partner’s laptop). I think I’ve seen episodes from the later seasons, but I can’t be sure. Maybe Sheldon has some back story that makes his character make more sense, but he still always just seems like an inconsiderate ass, Considering how popular the show is, It makes it seems as if people on the spectrum don’t even care about or try to be nice people.
I don’t know about Sheldon, but for Kit all these people were people he already knew. It was too much for him when too many people suddenly showed up unannounced, but he didn’t mind being with the group when he didn’t have to say much. That’s how I’m like, too; I can be open with people I know, but I would still withdraw if too many people I know suddenly showed up. One-on-one with someone I don’t know extremely well (so everyone outside my partner and immediate family - that’s excluding two of my siblings, who I just am not very close to) is the worst - I have to talk, and try to make eye contact, constantly. That’s why groups are better; I usually don’t have to say a thing.
I know what you mean. I’m constantly worrying about if I come off wrong. I know I can sound rude and arrogant, but unlike Sheldon, you and I care about it and try to deal with it constantly.
You conveyed perfectly what I’ve been trying to ramble about with so many more words!
There’s so much here to look forward to… characters, politics, decay, death, parenthood. I’m gonna hold off reading the next chapter a little longer, so I will be as excited as possible to talk about it come next friday.
I gave up after trying to google-find the 3rd named landmark.
Perhaps there’s a reason to use a fictionalized setting, but with the story so mundane so far, I find it frustrating. I like it when books motivate me to want to learn about real places.
Hmm. That’s opposite of how I took Page 1, Para 4. I’m glad to hear you and Raita had a different (and better) experience of getting to know Kit, but I felt the revealing of how he thinks differently could have been more subtle.