Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Walking on glass

Listening to:

Prokofiev, symphony no. 6. Seiji Ozawa conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

Just read:

Iain Banks, Walking on glass.

This novel is by Banks in his non-science fiction guise, and there is thus a chunk of it set in modern London. However, in a sci-fi like way, another significant chunk of it is set in a mysterious castle, on a planet that otherwise seems to be completely deserted. The castle seems to be set up entirely as a very elaborate prison for two people who are forced to play seemingly meaningless board-games with each other in order to win the right to find an answer to a question. If they get the right answer they will win their freedom. This castle story is all quite intriguing, and the setting is rather reminiscent of Gormenghast (which fact the story explicitly acknowledges at one point). So I definitely liked this bit.

The modern setting has two almost entirely separate narrative threads: one features a nutter who thinks he’s secretly an intergalatic warrior, and another features a lovelorn young student. This latter thread of the plot shares the honours with the castle for emotional heft, but is wrapped up in a rather brutal way. This is not horrific, but simply made me think Feh. The nutter and castle threads eventually come to parallel one another in a rather intriguing way, so there is a bit more connection there, even though I eventually decided it didn’t really make sense. (The love-story thread isn’t really connected to the rest of the novel at all.)

Not a glorious success then, but some cute ideas. Ultimately, only one of the threads (the castle) has a story-arc I found dramatically convincing, so the other two have to be regarded as padding, with one of them an opportunity for Banks to draw an incoherent parallel.