Tuesday, December 3rd, 2002
I finished Iain Banks’ Dead Air this morning. This one ranks right up there with Complicity and The Crow Road as my favorite of his works, and is a very satisfying return to form after the lacklustre The Business.
Banks made his non-initial name with twisted and disturbing works of fiction like The Wasp Factory and Walking On Glass, but has recently concentrated on more conventional narratives with a focus on character development and plot – the result being less mind-bending but ultimately more satisfying novels.
The novel kicks off in the afternoon of September 11, 2001, London time. I initially had concerns that 9-11 would be a major theme of the book, a risky proposition not even a year later but thankfully it’s only used to establish the setting and some context. Using radio DJ and protagonist Ken Nott as a mouthpiece, Banks does manage to fit in a few political rants, but they’re all in character and well-delivered.
Instead of a political screed, Dead Air is basically the story of a man who falls in love with a gangster’s wife. There are a number of excellent subplots including the one mentioned in an earlier entry about a television interview with a white supremecist, but the main plot thread is a classic love triangle.
If you hadn’t guessed, I prefer the newer Banks material to the older. Sure, I liked the visceral response I got from the hospital scene or the kite incident in The Wasp Factory, but the more recent stuff is more mature and engaging. Banks is better at creating fully-fleshed out characters and no longer needs to rely on enigma and inscrutability to make his characters intriguing. By the same token, he’s learned a well-constructed and executed plot is more effective than counting on shock tactics to leave an impression on the reader.
Dead Air – good stuff. Next on my list is Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, which was recommended to me by Jeff way back in the summer. I’ve not tried to tackle a translated classic in a long time, maybe since Dante’s Inferno. I hope my gray matter is up to the task.
np – The House Of Love / Babe Rainbow