I came pretty late to discovering the work of Iain M. Banks (Transition was the first of his novels that I read), and I’ve had Surface Detail sitting the shelf since its release and still haven’t gotten around to reading it. So it was particularly galling to read that he now has a terminal cancer and might not even see out the year. Hot on the heels of James Herbert’s recent death, it feels like a low period for British writers.
But Banks’ stoicism shines through in the message posted in his website. He jokes of recently asking his girlfriend to marry him and to ‘do me the honour of becoming my widow’. And, then he goes on to praise the ‘heroic’ efforts of his publishers to bring forward the publication date of his latest novel, The Quarry, in order for him to be able to finish it and to see it released.
It all led me to wonder whether being a writer would make it easier to be faced with mortality than for others – what with our inclination for self-examination and constant rumination on life. Or, would one’s imagination make the prospect of demise so much more terrifying by being fleshed out in all its final detail and possibility?
Mrs A asked me what I’d do if I learned that I only had six months to live. And having my own morbid streak a mile wide, I was able to answer with some certainty that in some ways the prospect would provide some sort of relief. I’d know for sure where the bus ride was going to end and it would remove the fear and uncertainty to a great degree. Of course, I’m not in that position and would probably shift from that sanguine view if really faced with my own Sword of Damocles.
I decided that I’d pack my bags and head for my favourite holiday destination of Fethiye in Turkey. I’d spend my days there in the sun, saying farewell to friends, drinking the local beer, growing fat on the local cuisine and wandering among all the ancient ruins. Then, just before my travel insurance ran out, I’d throw myself into the bay and end it all on my own terms.
Perhaps by that time, there’ll be a frustrated writer blogging somewhere bemoaning that he’s just heard of the imminent demise of Aiden Truss. He’s had his first and only novel on his shelf for months and hasn’t even gotten around to reading it yet. But he’ll praise the stoicism of the author who was determined to go out on his own terms. But then laugh at the inadvertent comedy of the whole affair where the dramatic suicide was undermined by the fact that the author had grown so fat that he just floated across the harbour and had last been seen drifting out to sea in the direction of Rhodes.
Mr Banks, may your remaining time be peaceful, fulfilling and free from the slapstick of my own imagined ending.