|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Whit, or, Isis amongst the unsaved is a novel by the Scottish writer Iain Banks, published in 1995. Isis Whit, a young but important member of a small, quirky cult in Scotland, narrates. The community suspects that Isis' cousin Morag is in danger, and sends Isis out to help.
Isis, otherwise The Blessed Very Reverend Gaia-Marie Isis Saraswati Minerva Mirza Whit of Luskentyre, Beloved Elect of God III, is the 19-year-old granddaughter and designated spiritual heir of Salvador Whit, patriarch of the Luskentyrians. They are a religious cult who live in a commune in Stirlingshire and reject most technology. They run their lives according to a collection of beliefs and rituals "revealed" to Salvador after he washed ashore on Harris in the Western Isles and "married" two young Asian ladies (Aasni and Zhobelia Asis). (Haggis pakora becomes a staple of the cult's cuisine.)
The novel opens shortly before the Luskentyrian Festival of Love, held every four years, about nine months before every leap year day (29 February). The Luskentyrians believe that those born on that day have special power. This includes Isis herself, Elect of God, and expected to take over leadership of the cult.
The bulk of the novel tells of Isis' voyages in the world of "the Unsaved" (also known as "the Obtuse", "the Wretched", "the Bland" and "the Asleep"), through Scotland and southern England in search of Morag, who is feared to have rejected the cult.
Because of Isis' anti-technology and self-denying puritanical beliefs, she has to use a Sitting Board (a hard board she can put over the comfortable seats in cars and other means of transportation in order to deprive herself of cushioning). She also uses the technique of Back-Bussing in order to avoid paying for a ticket on the bus. This consists of getting on buses, and when the conductor comes along, asking for a ticket in the opposite direction while looking confused. This normally results in being allowed to get off at the next stop and pointed in the right direction.
While searching for her cousin, Isis meets Rastas, policemen, white power skinheads, and other characters of a sort she has never encountered before, and tells the story of the cult and the rationale behind its rules. Isis' maternal grandmother, Yolanda, a feisty Texan woman, appears and lends her support to Isis' quest. Isis' friend Sophi, although not part of the cult, is very close to her. Isis meets her whenever she goes to her house to use the Luskentyrian method of free (if laborious) telephone communication, using coded rings.
When Isis finds Morag, she learns that though Morag has lapsed somewhat in her Luskentyrian practices (her work as a porn actress is not inconsistent with the cult's beliefs: neither is her playing the Baryton) she had every intention of returning for the festival. The story now takes a more sinister turn, as we learn that Isis' brother seems to have cooked up her impossible mission in an attempt to discredit her and put her out of the picture in a bid to take over the leadership of the cult.
Isis also learns the history of her grandfather, and rescues her great-aunt Zhobelia from an old people's home. Confident that Zhobelia's mild senility will recover in a less boring environment, Isis soon learns more of the origins of the cult from her. She finds out that her grandfather was Moray Black, a robber on the run, and that the cult he set up is based on lies.
Returning with her great-aunt Zhobelia, her cousin Morag, enhanced maturity and a lot more information, Isis must decide what to tell the other members of the cult.
Literary significance & criticism
Like many of Banks' characters, from Frank Cauldhame in The Wasp Factory to Prentice McHoan in The Crow Road, Isis engages in a half-unconscious search for knowledge which will inevitably turn her world upside down. (The novel thus becomes a type of Bildungsroman.)
Banks portrays the cult largely sympathetically, especially given its publication just after the Waco Siege in 1993 (which Yolanda discusses within the novel). Banks ensures that the Luskentyrian theology (in which Isis fervently believes at the start of the book) has coherence and consistency, even as events cause her to start to doubt.
Banks has called it:
a book about religion and culture written by a dedicated evangelical atheist — I thought I was very kind to them... Essentially, Isis makes the recognition that the value of the Luskentyrian cult is in their community values rather than their religious ones. She recognises that efficiency isn't everything, that people not profit are what matters.
- Whit, Iain Banks, London : Abacus, 1995, ISBN 0-349-10768-8