The Business

bq. The Business, a sly satire of corporate success, begins with every promise of fulfilling those standards. Kathryn Telman, "a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top) in a commercial organization which has had many different names through the ages but which, these days, we usually just refer to as the Business," has been selected to negotiate the Business's purchase of the sovereign state of Thulahn (where "the royal palace is heated by yak dung" and the "national sport is emigration"). Corporate takeovers are small potatoes compared to the acquisition of an entire country, and Kathryn's politely scheming superiors have set their sights on a seat at the United Nations and the "unrestricted use of that perfect smuggling route called the diplomatic bag."

bq. Kathryn's voice, at once polished and gritty, is the novel's strongest point. Her wry dissections of the Business, its motives and ambitions, its members, and the delightful irony of negotiating with Thulahn's crown prince (who is more interested in matrimony than marketeering) are sheer reading pleasure. And the notion of an ancient, omnipotent, secretive corporation is a great starting point for any number of stories. But The Business is, sadly, next to bankrupt on the level of plot. Of the two storylines that structure the novel (the takeover of Thulahn and Kathryn's growing suspicion of high-level fraud), neither amounts to much. Their development and resolution, such as they are, seem so haphazard that the reader might wonder whether Banks just lost interest in his own story.