Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Bridge by Iain Banks

Iain Banks takes on the unconscious and man's need to create images to interprete what is going on there in this novel.
The narrator, Orr, is in a coma following after a high-speed crash on a suspension bridge in Scotland although what happened to him doesn't really become clear until later in the novel.
He is living on a huge bridge that spans a expanse of water dividing The City and The Kingdom. Orr has lost his memory and is being treated by a psychiatrist who has asked him to write down his dreams.
He has a comfortable flat and money, a good social life and is allowed to travel fairly extensively, although as a patient there are limits.
However, the bridge is a Kafkaesque place with a hierarchy of inhabitants and whose customs and rules Orr is never really sure about.
He finds himself being evicted and moved to a cell-like room and his income slashed and no-one is able to tell him why.
There are other hints that all is not well. When he switches on his television he can only receive images of a man wired up to a life-support machine and when he lifts his phone all he can hear are a series of beeps.
Orr searches for a library that no-one has heard of and which when he does come across it is on fire with emergency crews rushing around desperately trying to control it.
This was the only real image of a subconscious trying to deal with what had happened to it that worked for me, the rest seemed to be merely whims of Banks.
He inserts dreams, fantasy sequences and a fairly straightforward biography of the man in the hospital bed and in whose mind we are travelling.
The chapter headings are geological eras, becoming more recent as the book progresses, presumably to reflect Orr's progress from the deepest parts of his coma to just below the surface of reality.
Banks's plot gives him plenty of scope to create a world in which tall tales are told and stretching credulity is not really an issue because what we are witnessing is in someone's mind.
Its an entertaining enough read but doesn't really do justice the vastness and weirdness of the unconscious.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

"Dead Air" made the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list, and my own shortlist after perusing that tome, but no library around here has it. I tend to be suspicious of a lot of speculative fiction; I was wondering if there's other Banks' fiction (I note the initial M. he uses to distinguish his SF works!) worth the effort?

Outside of Alasdair Gray's challenging novels that I read in the 80s, I admit near-total unfamiliarity with what's worth reading these days issuing north of Hadrian's Wall.