Book discussion - The Quarry - Discussion of Chapter 1

I suppose Banks wants to play with a certain narrative type, but coming out and saying that “Kit is autistic” or whatever, would interfere with the reader’s chance to understand and appreciate what Kit is saying. The classic form of this kind of storyteling is the “unreliable narrator”, but I don’t think that Kit is “unreliable,”


Yeah, that’s part of what I like about him. One form of the trope is to have a narrator who is either so clueless or full-of-themself that we know to take certain pronouncements with a grain of salt, and we absorb the story in part by filtering the narrator’s narration though our own knowledge of their limitations. And Kit’s limitations don’t exactly make him “unreliable,” since he relates precisely what he sees and experiences without coloring those moments with (for example) ego. To an extent, he brings a certain “court reporter” colorlessness to the actual events, whose significances we’re left to glean from the spoken text more than from the subtext of his imperfect interpretations, and since we can’t get into any heads but his (and since he can’t get into anyone else’s heads at all), we are reliant upon his reportage for the facts, and upon his reactions (or lack thereof) for the emotional payoffs.


Yes, but the fact that Kit is a reliable unreliable narrator means we actually get more info than usual about everyone. By using Kit’s mind as the filter to describe details, the author has us aware that we are looking at multiple realities which are sandwiched a lot closer together (if that makes sense).

(Edited to make better sense.)


Yeah, exactly, except that it will take longer to fully understand the other characters. But what Kit tells us, we can rely on. At least, I think.

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It certainly wasn’t a subtle introduction and I personally don’t think it should’ve been. When the narrator is not, well, neurotypical, it becomes obvious very quickly. By approaching the subject straight on and from the angle that most people expect, and then unraveling the actual thinking behind that stereotypical fare, Banks explained Kit’s condition and his personality very realistically in a few short pages.

Kit and Holly start by talking about how Kit shouldn’t say that he’s clever to people, which as @MindySan33 said above, can be off-putting as it can an easily make a character seem like the stereotypically arrogant and inconsiderate Aspie, Then Kit is told that he sounds sarcastic and condescending, but he really meant to sound patient. Kit explains how well he can pay attention to the way things are phrased and tries to understand context, but he’s told and he knows that he has to make allowances for people because people don’t always say what they mean - and in the end they come to the conclusion that “it’s complicated”.

We go through the rollercoaster that is Kit’s way of thinking in the first few pages and it seems to me that most people understand his difficulties very well by page 6. @Mindysan33 called it an eye-opener. For me, it felt very similar to how I always feel and think, and I couldn’t stop myself from reading out loud snippets from the book to my partner who was laying next to me, because there were things I’ve said or have been told, and as I rambled on my partner smiled back to me in the way he always does when I find things I can relate to.

That is very well said (as you always do). Kit is obviously an unreliable narrator in the traditional sense, yet he is as reliable as they come. He analyses things very precisely, what people say and their expression and movements, which gives us much information that would otherwise not be said. His different kind of thinking can shine a light on the things he doesn’t understand, such as relations between characters or their intentions, much brighter,

Also: what will happen with the quarry?

What will happen to Guy and his relations with other characters?

What are Haze and Pris like?

Who is Kit’s mother?


Yes, but the fact that Kit is a reliable unreliable narrator means we actually get more info than usual about everyone.

possibly. possibly not. You won’t neccesarily understand the psychology of other characters, if that aspect of their personality is being ignored by Kit.

there’s no particular reason that Paul, Rob, Hol, Haze, Pris, and Alison (or even Guy) should be depicted “accurately” through Kit’s narration.


I don’t think it really does. It’s been a very long time since I read it, just remember that the main character had a lot a rituals that were important to the way he did things and struggled to interact with people ‘normally’. I’m not sure I was even aware of autism when I read it…might be an interesting experience to revisit it, but there’s lots of other of Banks’ stuff for me to read (though sadly no more Culture novels…)

I do remember the publisher using all the really negative review quotes at the start instead of positive ones :smile:

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Ah’m nee Pit-Yakker hew.

But he’s also an unreliable narrator, I think. (EDIT - read the rest of the thread, commenting further below!) He says early on something about how he’s not like most people, because most people have a family, and I was surprised a page or two later to see him reference his father.

I am finding his asides about how difficult it is to deal with neurotypical people both revealing (as my students and I work with spectrum people and anything that brings aspects of their experience to life is potentially helpful) and tedious. I am exasperated with him as the narrator a LOT.

EDITED TO ADD: I appreciate the comment of @chgoliz, that Kit’s reliably unreliable, and @jerwin’s comment that we can’t be sure we really understand the other characters via Kit any more (I understood him to be saying) than via any other narrator. Kit comments very drily and precisely on what he observes, but his inner monologue makes us as the audience quite aware that there are probably lots of things beyond his perception, even though Hol has apparently taught him some helpful ways of trying to expand his perceptions.


Yes, I thought of that film and also “The Big Chill.”

As someone who has never managed to sustain much in the way of friendships from one phase of life to another, I find the setup a hard one to relate to. “You meet up with old friends and people have changed” - yes, well, that’s part of why I’m not friends with them any more, so why would I want to keep up with them?

(Seriously, I have no one from high school I’m still in contact with though a significant friend recently found me via Twitter and I found myself quite missing her looking at her current blog. I have three Facebook “friends” from college, only one of whom I actually comment to and would be willing to make an effort to see; she is apparently still friends with most of the people from that era, and seeing them crop up in her comments ranges from baffling to mildly traumatizing for me. No one from grad school #1 even knows or cares that I’m alive AFAIK. My cohort from grad school #2 was labeled the “failure to bond” year, so perhaps it’s not surprising that although I’ve since taken up writing occasionally with one person from another year, the rest are people I accidentally run into at conferences and that’s that. My last cross-country move came seven months after I asked myself “what would happen if I just stopped reaching out to this very large group of friends who allegedly consider me family?” and the answer was “I spend seven months largely in the company of my cats.” Even the friend I did still see during that time later got married four hours from my current home and didn’t invite me, never reciprocated holiday cards or gifts, etc. so I gave up. This long digression on the subject of “Relationships from my past; failures of” brought to you by my inability to relate to the general topic of nostalgia.)


I just wanted to highlight this comment because I thought it was so good. I was quite antsy over how glaring this omission became the further I got into Chapter 1, for which I have to concede a point to the author as it got me jumping into Chapter 2. (I was also off BB for the most part for around 10 days due to work, and couldn’t recall when the discussion was starting, so I scratched the curious itch.)


I hear ya. What you’ve said could just as easily apply to me, except your writing skills are better.
It baffles the living crap out of me why people would want to track down folks from their past.

Edit: OK, There’s a few people from my past who I would like ten minutes alone with just me and a cricket bat, but I prefer to live well rather than harbour grudges. It’s a much more rewarding experience. :smile:


No, he doesn’t say he doesn’t have a family. What he says is that your average person “has a pair of parents, or at least a mother, or at least knows roughly where they fit into all that family business in a way that I, for better or worse, don’t.”

Since he doesn’t know his mother and seems to have a confusing relationship with his dying father (I think we will know more later), I think it’s fair to say that his idea of a family is not the most conventional (especially since he thinks about things in such a different way).

Can you tell me at what points he exasperated you? Or if it is something more general, like a way of speaking, then what? I’m just curious, because it might help me understand better why people find some of the ways us (people with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism) speak/act so annoying.

“Meeting up with old school friends” is a cliche setup I also would have a hard time relating to (and probably would have given the book a pass) if that was all there is to it; but the addition of the narrator with an autism spectrum disorder (who I relate to in a major way), the dying father and the general theme of decay (both of which seem to be in the background, yet so prominent, in the story so far) breath new life to the over-used setup. Plus, I know Banks can find ways to make it interesting; he already has, and it’s only been one chapter.

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Well… I read it. I would have kept reading and likely finished it in one sitting were it not BOOK CLUB. Having stopped after ch1 it will only be book club that buys it further reading. I am not yet the Iain Banks fan others are.

Mostly, I’d say this chapter is the start of 50 other books and movies we might have slept thru. Meet the old gang who have come together to pay last respects to someone still living. The quasi special house plays some important role in their bonding but soon we’ll be gone, etc etc.

A new take on Clue? Some of us like remakes…

I too thought kit was a girl/woman. I agree the writing around Kits special mental condition was descriptive and well done, but I didn’t find anything here especially engaging.

Hoping chapter two hooks me more.


The reason I think Kit is a relatively reliable narrator is that there’s one less layer to try to figure out. The main reason to use a character in a story to tell the story – instead of the all-knowing author – is to add complexity. Each relationship presented has to be evaluated in three ways: who is the narrator, who is the other person, and what is the back story that affects how they interact. With Kit, the relationships are purer. We don’t have to wonder if there are undertones in a presentation of another character due to being an ex-lover, someone who got the promotion instead, or a generous giver of really nice presents every birthday. Kit will miss a lot of nuance, especially anything to do with emotion, but we can trust the powers of external observation.

I think either being “on the spectrum” or being close to someone like that can make a difference in how frustrating or freeing this technique appears to the reader. I also think the spectrum is actually like the Kinsey scale: we’re all on it; there’s no such thing as “normal” versus spectrum people. It’s not binary. So Kit’s way of interacting in the world isn’t that strange to many readers. It’s just rare to have it be supported as a legitimate way to present a fictional story.

The fact that Kit has a non-standard family structure is the first thing that drew me in. It’s a tantalizing mystery, for sure, plus I and many people I know inhabit similar circumstance so I’m glad to see it represented in a well-written story.

And I love the character of the house, which leads me to suspect I’m going to love how Banks portrays the character of the quarry even more.

edited to add: it seems @jlw and I were typing at the same time, and have stated very different viewpoints on the same details. Now that’s the fun of a book club!


I agree with you and @Elusis on this. There are a few people I see from my teen/young adult years, but not many. I always feel like an utter weirdo when people talk about their old friends that they still have in their lives. It seems the “normal” thing to do, and I generally feel like a failure for not having a core group of friends I made during that time, that I regularly get together with… But apparently, I’m not such a freak after all.

but with the group of friends, I too thought of The Big Chill. It’s very baby boomer to me, but I guess these folks would have been late boomers or early gen xers? I’m not sure of their age?

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I dunno. I’m rubbish at friends, not least because I’ve moved around so much, but my closest friends are still the ones from primary school 30+ years ago. Not really stayed in contact with people from uni. Couple of old work mates from 15 years ago…which does mean that almost all my friends are on a different continent from me. 'cept you guys…

I think these are supposed to be Young Ones era students, grown up, so yeah, early x-ers.

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I’m not sure I even know anyone from grade school.

That’s what I was thinking, but you know, I still get a baby boomer vibe off of them, if that makes sense. It’s probably to do with Bank’s age, which is 2 years younger than my father was. It’s funny how the experiences of the boomers and how they viewed and experienced their youth still resonates. I sort of feel like Gen X-ers are often… overlooked… lately? Or assumed our experiences are the same as our parents? I dunno.


This is where generations get kind of silly…

I think we’re the same age, but my dad is too old to even count as a baby boomer (if the term was used in the UK), since he was born before the US was even in the war…


To be fair, my parents had kids kind of young… But they are smack dab in the baby boom (although my dad’s youngest sister is on the border line between the boom and gen-x and she’s more like an older sister to me and my sister).

But, yeah, I think generations are more cultural, than anything else. There are plenty of people who are technically boomers who joined in on the punk scene. I think in this case (to bring it back on topic), Banks is certainly infusing this group with his own cultural expectations.

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