I was enjoying the hell out of this book right up until, near the end, it decided without warning to become a murder mystery. That section felt so out of place with the rest of this meandering, detailed meditation on death and growing up.
When life was full of mysteries and strangenesses, and talking moles (the skin thing, not the animal), and unfortunate bolts of lightning and litter bins, that was the book I was enjoying reading. One that didn't need to supply an answer for everything, that bravely asserted that not every death has a meaning, and sometimes the world is tragically absurd.
And then, for several chapters, it became about Prentice, the main character, solving several murders and playing cat and mouse with the killer, and it just didn't hang together with the rest of the book.
The book starts with Prentice's grandmother's cremation, at which she blows up. I'm not spoiling anything, that's the first line of the book. He is on the outs with his father over his lack of atheism, desperately in love with a not-cousin. (A cousin of his cousins, if that makes sense. No blood relation.) He is flunking out of school. He is a bit of an idiot.
And Prentice continues to be a bit of an idiot for a good portion of the book, as he sulks, drinks, and pushes people away. That was a bit trying for a while, but there was enough there to keep me interested. Specifically, the wealth of detail Banks brings to his world enchanted me. It was so complete, so tactile, the details so small and odd that it felt both familiar and strange. The taillight game that Ashley plays was so precise that I was sure the author must either do that himself, or know someone who does.
Then life dishes out the kind of irony that only exists in fiction and real life, and Prentice has to start to consider who he actually is and what he's going to do.
And then the murder mystery part happens. It felt like a payoff that didn't live up to the mystery. As a meditation on growing up and death, I highly recommend this book. But if Banks wants to write a murder mystery, he should just write a bloody murder mystery.