No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, June 29, 2006

#65: Dead Air -- Iain Banks

Banks' '9/11' novel, or so one might be forgiven for believing, given the cover illustration (an aeroplane passing the towers of Battersea Power Station) and the blurb. But the opening scene, which shows party-goers throwing things off a roof, and then hearing the news of the fall of the Twin Towers, is misleading: although events, and themes, do circle back round, the post-9/11 atmosphere is mere wallpaper to the plot.

Protagonist Ken Nott ('ken not', 'don't know', geddit?) is a radio DJ notorious for his leftish rants. He is a thoroughly dislikeable protagonist. He embarks on an affair as lavish as it's unwise, with a woman who bears the scars of a lightning strike and believes that at the moment of the strike, she became two people in two different universes. This belief may be what enables her to talk her way out of a tight corner, but we only have Nott's word for that.

On reflection, I think the real story in Dead Air is Nott's gradual understanding and appreciation of perspective. He begins to realise that friendship is more important than money or status: that the law doesn't have much to do with ethical right and wrong:
I'm not a particularly good person. I've lied and I've cheated and it's no consolation that little of it was illegal ... none of that means very much compared with betraying the people you're closest to; that's the stuff to really be ashamed of.

It's a relentlessly physical novel: sex and violence everywhere, and Nott's abortive career as Man of Action -- ok, one nail-bitingly tense break-in which teeters on the edge of farce. And, for a Scottish author, it's a peculiarly Londonish novel, with a real sense of place: a houseboat in Chelsea, Soho clubs, Docklands penthouses ... Scotland, in Dead Air, is where people escape to, where they go when they're offstage.

I didn't find the ending effective -- too trite, too facile, not enough questions asked -- and I didn't care for Nott, or his rants. And couldn't help but feel occasionally (as with the rant on the use of sound in SF films) that the author was indulging a personal whim, rather than furthering either plot or character.

Banks is a fine and witty writer, and this is an engaging book, on some levels: but I can't say I actually liked it.

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