Keywords: Fiction

Title: The Business

Author: Iain Banks

Publisher: Abacus

ISBN: 0349112452


Every Iain Banks book is different, if there's one constancy about his writing it's the inconstancy of his stories. The Business conforms to this non-conformity, with a story that is surprisingly straightforward and with a deft touch of unexpected romance.

The eponymous Business are a near invisible corporation that have been around since the days of the Roman empire (which they owned, briefly, at one point). They are there in the background, everywhere but nowhere, not a conspiracy exactly, but enough to provide ample ammunition to legions of conspiracy theorists. The Business is a closed world, it has its own rituals and corporate culture, and it exists to make itself powerful and rich - just like all multi-nationals.

The central character, Kathryn Telman, is a working class girl made good; a senior executive in the Business who specialises in finding high tech companies to invest in. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, she has a conscience. She understands how capitalism works, and the Business are capitalists par excellence.

It's this conflict between her conscience and her career which is the theme that runs through this story of corporate intrigue. Banks cleverly avoids the cliches, and there are none of the agit-prop nasty capitalists or pure innocent victims, which would have been an easy option for a lefty like Banks to take. Instead we have a more thoughtful view of the Business, who manage to combine internal democracy, meritocracy and strict hierarchy.

Taking a small step beyond what current multi-nationals are doing, the Business decide that they want a seat at the United Nations. They already have a turn-over that exceeds most countries, so why shouldn't they have a more direct say in the world? I just hope that Rupert Murdoch, Shell and the rest are taking notes. To get the seat at the UN they have to buy a country. The prime candidate is Thulahn, a land-locked Himalayan kingdom. Kathryn Thelman is duly posted to investigate...

Banks really does display a fantastic ear for language and an eye for detail. It's a pleasure to read, but it has to be admitted that this doesn't rank with one of his more imaginative (and downright perverse) works. It's good, but by no means the best.

Contents © London Book Review 2006. Published April 11 2006