The Business

ISBN: 0743200144
ISBN 13: 9780743200141
By: Iain Banks

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About this book

From one of Britain's most celebrated authors comes this fast-paced and wickedly satirical novel -- already a top bestseller in England -- about a highly secretive, centuries-old organization bent on global domination.From Silicon Valley to Scotland's Silicon Glen, Kate Telman trawls the globe in search of opportunities for her place of employment, cryptically known only as The Business. Though raised from girlhood to be a partner in The Business, Kate is still trying to navigate the mysterious world of the cabal-like organization whose origins predate the Christian church.With tentacles stretching from the ice-fields of Antarctica to a remote Himalayan principality, The Business boasts possession of a book of DaVinci cartoons, pornographic paintings by Michelangelo, and several sets of crown jewels. Yet its exact nature seems to be vague to the point of invisibility. In the course of her journey, Kate begins to uncover some curious facts about her enigmatic employer, and to keep control of her life she must learn to do The Business.In its first week out, The Business hit #3 on the Times of London's bestseller list, with tens of thousands of British readers having thrilled to this visciously funny commentary on corporate takeovers, the rise of the Internet, and other post-Cold War struggles for economic and political domination.

Reader's Thoughts


Not one of his best. I've tried to read it twice now and can't get through it.


This is my third Iain Banks novel (I've also read A Song of Stone and The Wasp Factory), and of those it is the one that reads most like an Iain M. Banks novel. Specifically, the protagonist, Kate, seems like she could be a Contact agent in the Culture novels. That said, while the book moves along and the characters are somewhat interesting, I didn't think this book had a lot going for it. It read more like a Neal Stephenson book, with Kate flying around the world and dealing with people more powerful than her within her organization (The Business). The Business itself is an ancient money-making enterprised, organized internally on somewhat democratic foundations, but outwardly mainly focused on making money. Both The Business and Kate are ethically ambiguous, and I feel like, while probably part of the point, this makes the book slightly less compelling.

Ian Caithness

An incredible novel on the human condition and the temptation of capitalism in business. Iain Banks writes with a free-flowing and captivating prose that allows people to sink into his books and come out at the end feeling refreshed.

Sally Melia

I have read all of Iain Banks novels and this one is one of my favourites.The Business from where the book gets its name is a centuries old concern, at one point in the novel it is suggested that its history stretches back as far as the Roman Empire, but the story postulates the compelling conceit that over centuries The Business has been built up with assets and resources that go beyond countries and national powers to influence every part of the world.Unexpectedly, at the top of The Business is a strictly meritocratic management structure, and here we come to the main story which is that of Kate who by a chance encounter on a housing estate outside Coatbridge, Glasgow, was lifted out of dire poverty to become Kathryn Telman, a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top).I won't say much about the story, except to say it had me hooked from the very start. It keeps the reader interested by using a variety of styles, phone conversations, emails, interview extracts; but also by a globe spanning selection of locals from Texas to Tibet, Yorkshire to Geneva. When it comes to describing how the very wealthy and eccentric spend their money, Iain Banks is as ever witty and entertaining.I think what I find compelling about this book is the character of Kate Telman, as always Iain Banks female heroines are excellent, and the overall story of not necessarily good vs evil, but greed vs the greater good. Also some interesting reflections on what makes a happy life.Recommended.

Michael Anderson

Well written, though the fact that the Business has been around since BC played not one bit in the story. Seems a lot of reviewers say this book is not nearly as good as many of his others. In that case, his others must be some hot shit, since I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I can't wait to read more.

Simon Mcleish

Originally published on my blog here in July 2000.The Business is a shadowy commercial operation which has been in existence for thousands of years, and which now aims to buy itself a country, so its senior executives can gain the privileges which go with a diplomatic passport. Kate Telman, the narrator, is not quite up to that level, but is one of the rising stars in the Business, and it is not particularly surprising when she is asked to become an ambassador of sorts to the Himalayan kingdom of Thulahn to arrange the purchase of the country from the reigning prince, particularly as he is known to have a strong fancy for her.The Business is, of course, designed by Banks to be the kind of organisation which attracts conspiracy theories, even if Kate is quite vehement in denying them ("We're not a cover for the CIA. They're the Company, not the Business."). This aspect of the novel is entertaining and unusual: most conspiracy theory novels are written from the point of view of an external investigator, rather than someone closely involved in what could clearly appear sinister to an outsider even if considered relatively innocent by herself. Kate has strong reasons to be grateful to the Business, which lifted her out of the deprived background in which she was born, but she is not entirely naive about the organisation and some of its senior members. She is one of several female point of view characters used by Banks (Canal Dreams, Whit, and Against a Dark Background provide other examples), and is reasonably convincing if a little bland.The star of The Business is Thulahn, which is an exaggerated version of Bhutan or Nepal, content to remain one of the remotest parts of the world. The people may be poor, but at least they're happy. The questionable benefits of Business sponsored development programmes begin to make Kate think twice about the whole deal, but in the end the country's portrayal is too idyllic for the issues to have real meaning.If The Business has a message, it is one it shares with Whit. This is that it is possible - and maybe easier - to be happy without the distractions of modern Western culture, without the consumer luxuries with which we are surrounded. (Whit makes this point more effectively, as its narrator is one of those on the outside of consumer culture, while Kate lives a life of corporate luxury.) Banks is surely trying to say that we should look at our own lives to see what in the material world is really important, what really brings us happiness.This is one of the reasons why The Business lacks the significance of Banks' earlier novels - or other novels about the third world. Compared to, say, The God of Small Things, it has nothing to say; it lacks the brilliance of The Bridge or the immense shock value of The Wasp Factory. Banks seems to have become a bit too comfortable, but is still a good writer and extremely entertaining.

Clive Thompson

In some of Bank's novels you are not sure whether they are set in the past, present or future. This one appears to be set in the present, if the past had been different. In this version of Bank's world, an organisation (The Business) has become more and more powerful through legitimate means and has a structure that is based on promotions rather than the 'murder to get to the top' of less successful family organisations. The story follows Kate Telman through the most important times that she has with The Business - and her realisations also.A year before writing this review, I read the novel on holiday and returned to add an instant review to the Amazon pages. In that, I stated that my guess would be that, in the future, all Bank's previous works, before "The Business" will be termed his earlier works; such is the level of maturity seen in this novel. I believe this to be his best so far and probably also the most accessible. It would be a good introduction to Banks and a springboard to "The earlier works""A close inspection of my own personal Mammon graph would reveal even to the untrained eye that my remuneration package - including commission multipliers gained as a result of my successful forecasts regarding computers and the Internet - was already more generous than that of many of our Level Two executives. It had occurred to me a couple of years earlier that I was probably what the average person would consider independently wealthy; in other words that I could have existed comfortably without my job though, of course, as a good Business woman, that was all but unthinkable for me."Note in the above that Business woman has a capital B. The Business is all powerful and Kate has to cope with that fact at the expense of her own feelings. Doesn't she?


(Not to be confused with the Company.)Reads somewhat similarly to "Whit", and will probably appeal to the same audience.The basic concept of one of the plot lines is *really* ridiculous, but still.(from what I remember of it) it was quite entertaining, regardless.Just, you know, don't take it too seriously.Memorable quotes:'Frederick! Ah, and the lovely Kate! Ah, I am so glad to see you both! Kate: as ever, you take my breath away!''Always gratifying to be compared with a blow to the solar plexus, Prince.'We headed along the bottom of a small dry creek towards the jumbled shape of a sprawling stone-and-log-built cabin, which looked like it owed something to Frank Lloyd Wright. Probably an apology.


Fairly boring. Disappointed with my first Iain Banks. Dull story that doesn't end plausibly ...

Elliot Raff

Extremely well written female lead. Strong character driven narrative. Enough intrigue and twists to make it a can't stop reading experience.


Perhaps the weakest of Banks' 'straight' novels, it is in some ways his most readable. It is told from the perspective of Kate Telman, a high-ranking female executive in a multinational corporation -- known simply as 'The Business' -- whose roots go back into antiquity. Indeed, for a few weeks it owned the Roman Empire. Telman is plucked from obscurity and eventually marries the titular ruler of an obscure Himalayan kingdom, thus ensuring that the Business gets a seat at the United Nations. In some ways this is a cynical retelling of Cinderella. As with everything Banks writes, the characters and locales are endlessly fascinating, but there is a heartlessness about Telman that leaves one, in the end, out of sympathy.


This felt like a bit of a homage to Douglas Coupland; part travelogue, part journey of self-discovery by a rising star in a large business organisation.The only speculative element was the nature of the millennia old (legitimate) business.There is a literal plot that serves to move the main characters from place to place. I don't, however, feel that is the really "point" of the novel, more a catalyst for change in the character's lives.In the end I was rather charmed by this not-love story...

Martin Davey

For years I thought Iain Banks could do no wrong. 'The Wasp Factory', 'The Bridge', 'Complicity' and all the rest, every time I read an Iain Banks book I felt as though my mind had been blown by the guy's genius. And then I ran out to WH Smith and bought 'The Business' as soon as it was released. Ack.It sounds interesting enough, the whole history of the Business, this huge, shadowy organisation and this woman who works for them. But the book is what I never ever thought Banks could be. Dull. I kept throwing the book to one side and then picking it up again, thinking it's Banks right? It has to be awesome and genius. But no, it was about this woman I couldn't begin to care about who works for this organization that's so shadowy that I couldn't care less about it. And on this journey the woman meets people who I remember being just as dull as she is.In his earlier novels Banks always had the brilliance of his writing to carry the day, but in this one there wasn't even that to fall back on.A massive let down after his earlier books.


I picked up Iain Banks' novel The Business at the local library when they didn't have his Consider Phlebas in. The first few pages intrigued me, so I checked it out. Sadly, the first few pages were the best in an otherwise dreadfully boring novel. Those first pages were part of the prologue of the book. Once I got past it and began the first chapter, I knew I was in trouble. Here's the opening paragraph in it's entirety:My name is Kathryn Telman. I am a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top) in a commercial organisation which has had many different names through the ages but which, these days, we usually just refer to as the Business. There's a lot to tell about this particular concern, but I'm going to have to ask you to be tolerant here because I'm intending to take things slowly and furnish further details of this ancient, honourable and -- to you, no doubt -- surprisingly ubiquitous concern in due course as they become relevant. For the record, I am one point seven metres tall, I weigh fifty-five kilos, I am thirty-eight years old, I have dual British/US nationality, I am blonde by birth no bottle, unwed, and have been an employee of the Business since I left school.If you're not already asleep, you at least have a good idea of how incredibly dull this story is going to be. And "for the record," never introduce a character that way. It's a rookie mistake that stops the story cold. It's a puckered seam on something you want to be seamless.I plodded through another thirty pages, in which some interesting questions were raised. Ultimately, though, the terrible writing was too much for me to take. Not only that, but the woman who seems like such a strong heroine at the outset turns out to be hung up on a married man who is staunchly committed to his wife, and she doesn't want to take no for an answer. If the situation were reversed, the character would seem like a smarmy sleaze. But since it's a woman persisting in the harassment, it just comes off as needy, weak, and dumb.So I'm dumping this book back on the library shelf and not bothering to finish it. Don't waste your time with this one.


’El Negocio’ (The Business, 1999) es una novela escrita por el Banks de la rama mainstream, y por tanto no tiene nada que ver con su particular universo de ciencia ficción de La Cultura. Pero esta obra se aleja bastante de sus otras obras mainstream, como ‘La fábrica de avispas’, ‘Pasos sobre cristal’, ‘Una canción de piedra’, ‘Cómplice’ o ‘El puente’, ya que todas contienen elementos de una imaginación insuperable, y un ritmo muy atractivo. En el caso de ’El Negocio’, no sucede esto; la acción es más pausada y en ocasiones aburrida. Banks ha querido escribir un thriller con tintes de conspiración que tarda mucho en arrancar.Pero vayamos con la trama. El Negocio es una empresa, una sociedad secreta más bien, cuya historia se remonta hasta el Imperio Romano, y que se ha visto implicada, directa o indirectamente, en algunos momentos decisivos de la Historia, pero siempre manteniéndose en un segundo plano. Porque la misión principal de El Negocio, y de sus miembros, es hacer dinero, y el poder que éste conlleva. La protagonista, Kate Telman, pertenece a uno de los niveles más altos de la jerarquía que controla El Negocio, cargo que ha alcanzado gracias a su buen ojo para las nuevas tecnologías. La vida de Kate es relativamente plácida, e iremos conociendo parte de su pasado y de cómo entró en conocimiento de El Negocio, a través de flashbacks. La ambición de Kate no es otra que subir de nivel. Pero El Negocio ambiciona algo que lleva persiguiendo desde hace siglos: la posesión de un Estado propio y la inmunidad y el poder que esto supondría.Banks narra muy bien, y sus diálogos son excelentes, “marca de la casa”, y la evolución de su protagonista durante la trama es muy meritoria, llegas a entender sus actos. Pero ’El Negocio’ no deja de ser una obra menor de Banks. Correcta, interesante por momentos, pero que no me ha dejado excesiva huella.

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