Details: (c) 1992 Iain Banks; Pub Abacus 1998; ISBN 0-349-10323-2
Verdict: The Crow Road is a solid character piece and highly readable.
Reasons for reading it: I'm really running out of ways of saying 'because lethargic_man told me to'...
How it came into my hands: lethargic_man lent it to me.
The Crow Road is almost pure lad-lit; the protagonist is a somewhat irresponsible young man whose main interests are getting drunk and having random sex plus a couple of mildly geeky enthusiasms. And in the best traditions of the genre, he turns out to be a decent, caring person underneath and ends up getting together with an implausibly wonderful (but not overly feminine) girl. It's also very well-written; I feel a bit odd talking about exceptionally good lad-lit, but in truth it's a genre, not a value judgement. And tCR, for all its strengths, never entirely transcends the genre. I really liked the characterization; the characters are larger than life, but still plausible and sympathetic. And the sense of place and often beautiful language complement them nicely.
The plot is nothing to write home about, but that really doesn't matter when everything else works so well. In fact, tCR could almost be regarded as a series of vignettes; they are held together in an artful structure, but it isn't one that depends on a clear linear development. There are various ongoing themes, a little murder mystery as well as Prentice's quest for love and his coming-of-age. The narration jumps about between viewpoints, covering three generations in an order that is definitely decorative rather than chronological, and it's none the worse for that.
The strength of tCR is as a portrait of a couple of micro-societies: a small Scottish town, and the lifestyle of the kind of twenty-somethings who are nothing like me or most of my friends. Death, growing up, and love are all handled sensitively and movingly, but the book never wallows in sentimentality. The humour sometimes seems a little forced, but the fact that it is there provides a nice balance to the more poetic passages. I suppose my one quibble is the inverted snobbery that pervades the book; working class people are almost universally sympathetic if not too wonderful to be true, middle class people are sort of ok as long as they espouse right-on politics and feel a bit guilty about being fortunate, and rich / upper class people are either ridiculous or downright evil.