Opening The Quarry, I could not help thinking about Banks' plight, hoping he would still be here not only to see the book, the publication of which was brought forward, but also to hear the first responses to it. The scenes where one of the main characters, dying of cancer, talks about his desire to live, when read on the day of mourning, felt especially poignant. The parallels between Guy's and his creator's own fate seemed uncanny: according to the author, they were a total coincidence as he had been diagnosed when nearly at the end of the first draft.
Throughout the novel, Guy's illness remains "entirely, perfectly personalised", much as his life story is of his own making. Having failed on all fronts - his career, family life and finances all seem to be in tatters - he is the first to admit that he's a "one-man vice squad". Yet, he passionately wants to go on, as her says: "I hate the thought of the world and all the people in it just going on merrily without me after I'm gone. How ****ing dare they? I should have had another forty, fifty years!"
The book is reminiscent of Banks' earlier fiction in several ways, while also referencing a range of topical issues discussed in Britain today, from celebrity sex scandals to the rise of the English Defence League, to the travails of the National Health Service. We see them through the eyes of the dying man, but also through the experience of a group of people closest to him, including his son.
The Quarry is narrated by Kit, a teenager living alone with his father, just like the protagonist of The Wasp Factory, Banks' 1984 debut novel that brought him fame. While this novel is set in the north of England rather than Scotland, and is without violence, the similarities between the two recluses are striking. Both are "normality-challenged teenagers", to use Banks' own words, but Kit, instead of murdering people, tries talking to them, with varying degrees of success. He has some form of Asperger's syndrome, which makes him an uncomfortable companion; he fails to see why people need small talk and has to be reminded: "Apart from anything else these meaningless replies are like saying 'Roger', or 'Copy that'; you're letting people know that you received their message."
However, Kit is clearly aware of his condition and understands the differences between himself and the outside world. The latter comes in two forms, "the real world, and those beyond". In other words, Kit's everyday life in a dilapidated house on the edge of a stone quarry, which is about to swallow it, goes on alongside his imaginary existence in HeroSpace, a popular computer game the boy has been perfecting his skills at for some years, reaching a high status in the online community and even earning some money in the process.
The cash comes in handy as Kit, his father's main carer, struggles to make ends meet. His obsession with the game is also something he can acknowledge when being serious about it: he is an ordinary teenager in this and many other respects, including his social clumsiness, geeky tastes and, occasionally, lack of empathy. But caring for the gravely ill man inevitably has an effect on him, and as he questions his own feelings towards his father, his personality shapes up in a unique way (which can probably be said about all teenagers, no matter how patently alike). On top of everything else, he does not know who his mother is.