Books: Complicity

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.

READ IT.

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