The Crow Road

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The Crow Road is a novel by the Scottish writer Iain Banks, published in 1992.


Plot introduction

Prentice McHoan's life, growing up in a complex but coherent Scottish family with many mysteries is described, seen through his preoccupations with death, sex, relationships, drink (and other intoxicants) and God, with the background a celebration of the Scottish landscape.

Plot summary

The book begins: 'It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.'

This family saga is set in the fictional Argyll town of Gallanach (by its description, reminiscent of Oban but on the north east shore of Loch Crinan), the real village of Lochgair, and in Glasgow where Prentice McHoan lives. Prentice's beloved uncle Rory disappears mysteriously while writing a book called The Crow Road. Prentice becomes obsessed with the papers left behind by his missing uncle and sets out to solve the mystery.

A large part of Prentice's growing up is his gradual understanding of his wealthy and eccentric family, especially his parents' tragic and complicated generation. This becomes particularly important to him after his father Kenneth, a committed atheist, is killed by lightning while climbing a church tower, trying to settle an argument about the existence of God. The family has already suffered tragedy through the death of Kenneth's sister Fiona (married to Fergus Urvill) in a car crash.

Prentice's old friend Ashley Watt and others help him in his quest to find the key to Rory's disappearance.

Literary significance & criticism

Reckoned by many as Banks' most likeable book, it combines menace (it contains an account of a 'perfect murder') and dark humour (c.f. the opening sentence reproduced above) with an interesting treatment of love. His use of multiple voices and points of view, jumping freely in both time and character, is often considered to be at its peak here. Even quite minor characters like Prentice's grandmother, the fictional town of Gallanach and his family's home in Lochgair are carefully described, giving Prentice's life depth and context.

The book is about Prentice's journey of discovery about himself, those he loves, and the ways of the world. (This type of novel is sometimes called a 'Bildungsroman'.)

The Crow Road, as explained in the book, as well as being a real-life location in the west of Glasgow, is an expression for death, as in "He's away the Crow Road". The appropriateness of this title becomes apparent as the novel progresses.


The Crow Road was adapted for television by Bryan Elsley for the BBC in 1996. See The Crow Road.

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