OK, I’ll readily admit that I have been horrendously AWOL lately. I’m sorry. Life has been very busy, in good and bad ways. Good: one of my school friends is getting married in a month’s time. Bad: I have no money. Good: I got engaged. Bad: I’m struggling to see where I’m headed. And so forth.
But, in amongst all this, I’ve been reading. And I felt the urge to revisit a book I’ve read before, namely “Complicity” by Iain Banks. I don’t know what compelled me to pick it up again, but needless to say I couldn’t find my copy. Dagnabbit. So I bought it on my Kindle (you know, with the money I don’t have).
Anyway. I’ve mentioned Complicity before (back when I briefly reviewed The Bridge a couple of years ago) but I’ve never reviewed it before. I say “reviewed”: I mean rambled incoherently whilst giving across my sheer love of this book.
OK, it’s not a lovely book. I’ll be blunt: it’s the most vile and vicious book I’ve read. Ever. Those of you who have been exposed to Banks before have most likely read The Wasp Factory, and thought that was pretty heavy. Well, Banks himself said in interview that Complicity is ”[a] bit like The Wasp Factory except without the happy ending and redeeming air of cheerfulness”. So, try and think positive.
Complicity is based mainly in and around Edinburgh (a plus for me, already), following the strange and brutal murders of a series of capitalist, right-wing figures. But it’s not just as simple as all that, is it? No, the murders are ingenious, the murderer has the whole thing thoroughly planned out, and the reader is rapidly pulled into the depths of confusion and despair along with our narrator.
The majority of the plot of Complicity revolves around the life of Cameron Colley, a disillusioned left-wing journalist, who is a bit down on life. He is strangely lovable – I say strangely, because he is a bit sad, lonely, has many casual drug habits, has regular sex with a married woman, etc. One might say he is “a good man with bad habits”. My other half once described himself like this, so maybe that’s another reason I find Cameron strangely lovable.
The sections of plot involving Cameron are written in first person – some people call this the “unreliable narrator”, and yes, he probably is a bit, because he does ramble on. But it gives the reader a real sense of being WITH the action, in the thick of it. We feel his boredom, we sense his excitement, and finally, when he is arrested, falsely accused of the murders of those right-wing figures I mentioned, we sense his desperation, and we slip into the confusion and paranoia that interrogation and sleep deprivation brings.
There are a lot of moral questions in this book: questions about crime and punishment, war (huh, what is it good for), and the darker side of human nature. And of course, where do our loyalties lie? Would YOU be complicit?
The descriptions of the murders themselves are brutal and very uncomfortable to read in a public place. But to make matters worse (and even more effective) these sections of the novel are written in second person – yes, YOU, ”You hear the first faint distant screams just as you take the bike’s key from your pocket. You feel suddenly elated”. Shudder.
Like with all crime thrillers, I can’t divulge too much plot without spoiling the experience for you. But needless to say, this remains one of my favourite books of all time (so far). Even if I have to read some of it through my fingers. Seriously. It’s gruesome.
Oh, and a humorous tit-bit: Cameron is heavily into computer games, particularly a fictitious game called “Despot” which is curiously similar to Civilisation (which my dad used to play). Cameron loses many hours due to playing this game. In fact, he’s often playing the game when he should be writing. And you know what? So was Iain Banks. Happy sigh. Art mirrors life mirrors art.
Man, I love Iain Banks. This is now the third of his novels I’ve read (excluding his sci fi) and he has yet to disappoint me, even slightly.
Whilst The Bridge still doesn’t top Complicity for me (man, THAT is a good book), it is still a truly great book. Banks is, as always, imaginative and involving, skirting the border between fluid prose and wild streams of consciousness. And again, as always, Banks covers some difficult ground, being quite explicit about violence and sex. Banks is not for the faint-hearted: you have been warned. This is far less aggressive than Complicity however, so might be a good way in for Banksian virgins.
The Bridge starts off with a car crash, and we see it from the POV of the victim – in the chaos and confusion, the “narrative” (if it is even that) is punctuated by fear and pain, and the stream of consciousness is a bit hard to follow. But stick with it: the fog lifts (a bit) very shortly.
What follows is our protagonist’s journey through his subsequent memory loss (he is given the name John Orr because he can’t remember his real one) and his recovery from the crash.
The main part of the novel follows Orr around the strange world of the Bridge, a society built on, you guessed it, a huge bridge. It’s a surreal mix of the otherworldly and the profoundly human. However, we do get glimmers of reality intermittently in Orr’s “dream” chapters, and it swiftly becomes very difficult to discern what is real from what is not.
I can’t say much more without divulging huge spoilers, so I will leave it there in the hopes that I have already whetted your appetite enough.
A final note to say that one “dream” mentions Peniel Heugh, or the Waterloo Monument, which I recognised by Banks’ description, before it is even named in the text. And that’s because I’ve been there. Here’s photographic evidence, taken on my mobile back in July this year:
Hope you get a chance to read this book. I stormed through it in a matter of days, despite my impending lab report deadline – it is simply that exciting and engaging. But then, Banks has a good track record in my books.
Yes, that’s me, reading in bed. Shush.
Right. We’re almost back to 100% functionality.
HELLO! I’m back from holidays Sorry it took so long to getting around to writing this up (it’s been quite a few weeks since we got back…) but things have been rather busy.
As you can see from previous post, it could have gone a little smoother, but unfortunately, That’s Life. I’m not going to go off an a philosophical rant, because I don’t think I have the emotional stamina (not today, maybe later), but instead focus on the good that came of the holiday.
Northumberland. It is gorgeous.
I swear, I enjoy it more every time. It’s a bit tricky organising Jane’s kids, but then they are young, and quite, quite mad.
It sounds cruel, but much as I enjoy hanging out with them, I hope in August when we go again, we do more Kitten+Fox stuff on our own – when we go out and about with the kids, it’s fun, but we stay in quite a fixed 20 mile radius around the cottage, and often do the same sort of activities in the week. I’m still waiting to go cycling, kayaking, walk Hadrian’s Wall, see Kielder observatory, etc…
Must come up with a more focussed itinerary for summer. Then we should be ok
I am fairly certain I want to move up here within the next decade or so. I feel very… well. I feel at ease away from London. Maybe it’s being away from people? I do like my creature comforts though (I got myself into a real tizz when I was thwarted TWICE in the week in my efforts to have a decent bath), but I think I could put up with a little lack if it meant I didn’t have to deal with twats on the tube every day of the week.
I love London. Really, I do. I know we have our differences, but that’s what love boils down to in a way.
In London, I have access to culture and knowledge. Everything is on my doorstep here, and most of it is free. I could do something different every day of the week, and hardly break the bank. Just this Tuesday, Vin (an old uni mate) and I braved the National Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields, the National Portrait Gallery AND the British Library, all in one afternoon. Granted, we barely scratched the surface of each institution, but it was fantastic.
But in London… There is a lack of privacy. There is a lack of the sweet sense of solitude. In Northumberland, even in their bigger towns, it is quiet, and people smile at you. And nearly every town has it’s own ruined castle. Brilliant. Unfortunately, there is next to no industry, so unless you’re involved with tourism, run an internet business, or are filthy rich already, it’s difficult to forge a living there.