Espedair Street is the second Iain Banks’ book I’ve read in the past year. My new plan is to save the books of his which I haven’t read for when I am in a reading rut, because after reading Espedair Street and The Quarry, I feel as if I can rely on his stories to be entertaining.
The story of Espedair Street is told by Daniel Weir, a lonely man in his early thirties who used to be in one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Despite being a musical genius with fans from all over the world, Daniel has terribly low self confidence and is not a happy man. In the beginning of the book Daniel is contemplating suicide. He hides his true identity from his only friends and has regular bookings with a prostitute, to prevent him getting too attached to his own attentions, (for want of a better expression).
Before becoming famous as part of Frozen Gold, Daniel was a nerdy teenager from a very poor Catholic family in Glasgow. He very often comments during the telling of this story how physically ugly he is, but before the band became successful Daniel had a girlfriend, who seemingly loved him regardless. Being a teenage boy on the verge of stardom though, Daniel left his girlfriend behind to live the life of a rock star, flying around the world to play tours, partying and enjoying romances with other members of the band.
I actually felt sorry for Daniel, which doesn’t seem all that crazy when you consider the lives of celebrities these days. I don’t think there is enough money in the world to make up for not being able to do what you like when you like without being photographed or harassed or taken notice of, but as a young man Daniel loved his life with the band. He and the other band members were a family of sorts and had their adventures together. Drugs and alcohol were a major part of all of their lives and should have been their downfall, but somehow it was their more considered choices which harmed them, rather than the insane things they did when they were smashed.
Daniel’s depression is due to his feelings of guilt because of tragedies affecting his fellow band mates. Rightly or wrongly, Daniel feels responsible for the choices other band members made.
Even though Daniel is a melancholy character who has experienced some really hard times, the comedy in this book is really funny. Daniel and his mate get a dog drunk, (hear me out, I’m not condoning getting animals drunk – I don’t drink alcohol myself and don’t forget, this didn’t really happen – it’s a made up story), but the story of the poor dog getting drunk after going on a pub crawl with Daniel and his mate is hilarious. The dog was actually owned by Daniel’s mate’s uncle, who gave the dog money to pay for a round when it was the dog’s turn to shout.
The story of Daniel and his mate getting in a fight which trashed a nightclub is hilarious too. Now I come to think of it, a great many of the funny stories in this book happened when Daniel or other band members were either drunk or on drugs…hmmm, maybe I’m missing out on something as a teetotaller… Nope, not really. The things that could have gone wrong with Daniel and his fellow band members but didn’t, made great stories, but they could just as easily have ended tragically.
Despite all of the crazy things Daniel and the other characters did when they were drinking or drugging, (if that isn’t a word it should be), these were only things that happened along the way of the actual story. The story shifts back and forwards between the present, which is Glasgow sometime in the 1970’s, and Daniel’s recollections of the past with the band. There are a lot of layers to this story.
Espedair Street was a very enjoyable second Iain Banks book and I am already looking forward to my third.