Those few who have tasted the delights of Iain Banks’ writing through his altogether skewed masterworks such as “The Wasp Factory” and “Walking on Glass” would be advised to lend a quiet caution to the decision to embark upon this novel.
Where previously, he has leaked subtle invention into plot lines and connected with the tangible through twists of an actual physical nature, he dedicates this book almost entirely to a philosophical treatise on the nature of fidelity and betrayal.
The story weaves itself in a cyclical and embittered path less travelled by novelists and more indebted to the existentialists, themes being of nature and class and control: A war (unspecified) forcing the people of a certain country (undefined) to flee their residences and escape from an (unknown) enemy whose duty seems to be to kill everyone in sight.
The first person narrator (throughout) is the unfortunate owner of a castle who is forced to return by a female lieutenant to guard the position from everyone else. The natural propensity for the kidnapped to develop some kind of attachment to the kidnappers ensues, and the story wraps itself around key moments of power transfer. The characters are developed beautifully through the eyes of the storyteller, and we are under no illusion that a tragedy is unraveling.
Bringing to mind Camus, and even Kafka in its darker moments, it is gripping in the sense that we follow the internal monologue of a doomed protagonist, feeling his pain and insecurities, and becoming party to his defining moments (via the medium of flashbacks). At key points, we shiver with anticipation of the impending catastrophe, and cannot help but empathise with the mistakes that bring about the denouement.
There is no heroic emblem, or demonized cipher in this world. It is a world of reality and fallibility, peopled by characters that are both weak and strong in situations that are spiralling out of their control.
It is also a novel that reduced me to despairing tears (embarrassingly on the tube), so expect to be moved, and shocked and turned on and thrilled.
9Alice Dream's Score