LONDON (Reuters) - The final novel of Scottish author Iain Banks was released on Thursday to bittersweet acclaim 11 days after he died of the very disease around which the plot revolves.
"The Quarry" describes the final weeks in the life of a man named Guy in his 40s battling terminal cancer who is being cared for by his 18-year-old son Kit.
The best-selling writer, who died on June 9 at the age of 59, asked his publisher Little Brown to bring forward its release date after telling fans about his illness, but he did not live to see it in public hands.
Banks had said and his widow Adele has reiterated that he did not know he had cancer until the novel was almost finished.
"Had he known he had cancer, he would never have written about it," Adele Banks said on the Banksophilia website, started by the novelist's friends.
Early reviews said Banks's instinct for fierce black comedy and biting dialogue remained as sharp as ever and the Guardian called it a poignant, difficult and distressing read.
"Reading this book, one is hit again and again with the fact - tragic and astonishing in equal measure - that Banks didn't know he was dying until he'd almost finished the first draft, that the cancer that was the subject matter of his novel would soon become the urgent subject matter of his life," wrote Alex Preston in the Guardian.
Telegraph writer Jake Kerridge said in his review of "The Quarry" that the cruel character of Guy - who deceives and runs down his son even as Kit carries out his most intimate care - is the final examination of the monstrous characters that Banks has presented to his readers from the very beginning of his career.
"It may be this element of unsentimental compassion that accounts for why so many readers are now experiencing a keen grief for the loss of a writer who has the rare gift of being infallibly entertaining," Kerridge wrote last week.
Born in Fife, Banks was an only child in a household full of books. His parents encouraged him to develop a fantasy life.
He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer, completing his first, unpublished novel at the age of 16.
After the success of "The Wasp Factory", Banks began to write full-time and agreed with his editor to try and produce a book year, pursuing two writing careers - as Iain Banks the mainstream fiction writer and as Iain M. Banks, the science-fiction writer who emerged with "Consider Phlebas" in 1987.
The first Iain made more money from his books, which included "The Crow Road" and "Complicity", and received the greatest literary praise. The second Iain, with an M., was more political and had a loyal cult following.
Banks, a larger-than-life character who wore his politics and passions on his sleeve, once joked that he had considered adding a few more pseudonyms to the list, writing Westerns as Iain Z. Banks and erotica as Iain X. Banks.
Proud of his Scottish heritage, Banks reveled in his love of malt whisky, even making it the subject of a book "Raw Spirit" that took him across Scotland.
But after hitting 50 and with the collapse of his first marriage in 2006 he took stock of his life and made changes.
The man who once ran for rector of the University of Edinburgh on behalf of the Drunken Bastards Party cut back on his drinking and also gave up recreational drugs after years of marijuana, LSD and cocaine use.
(Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Angus MacSwan)