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Iain Banks is my favourite author. I have never encountered any other writer with such a diverse talent, whose novels chnage in genre from out and out science fiction, to romance, to thriller, and in the case of 'The Bridge', psychological science fiction.
Published in 1984, 'The Bridge' was written by Banks as a homage to the great Scottish author and painter Alasdair Gray. The novel is, in fact, based loosely upon Gray's monumental work 'Lanark', a book that is heralded as the greatest Scottish novel of all time (arguably!).
Now, 'The Bridge' is admittedly a difficult and complex novel to grasp. Without giving too much away, although if you read the blurb unbder 'description' you may find the plot twist spoiled, I'll give you a brief plot rundown;
The opening section of the novel describes what you think is a crash. Thereafter, we are fascinated and confused with several different sections. One details the life of John Orr, a man washed up at the foot of the majestic Bridge. Orr is suffering from amnesia, and can't quite grasp the fact that he has woken up in a place that seems to be a never-ending bridge. Amongst this we are introduced to a set of Orr's dreams, some his own fabrication, some real. Then there is the life story of an unknown man peppered throughout the novel. It is indeed complex, but incredibly compelling and very unusual.
Banks has always excelled in story-telling that requires the piecing together of a mystery. His technique of very gradually revealing past events from the life of the protagonist is one that works extremely well in this case. As the life of the man in the hospital bed is slwoly revealed, the reader comes tantalisingly close to the truth, whilst in contrast Orr's past remains frustratingly elusive, which makes turning the pages a very compelling act.
The narrative itself is, as always in Banks' case, really quite diverse. Ranging from utterly confusing (see the opening page), to your bog standard English, base Scots and Glaswegian, the language is a fascinating study (what Gray would call 'critic fodder'). Once you've reached the end of the novel and understand who the barbarian and the man in the hospital bed are, the narrative takes on a whole deeper meaning. The barabarian, with his slang and ridiculously spelled language, represents the deepest part of Orr, a part that he is deeply ashamed of.
This novel is truly unique. Not quite science fiction, not quite a psychological thriller, 'The Bridge' would not fit comfortably into any category. The story is incredibly compelling; I can guarantee you'll be itching to discover the truth behind Orr's past, as well as the identity of the man in the hospital bed, as he is known throughout the novel. The gradual unravelling of the story is masterfully woven by Banks, and I'm sure Gray would be quite flattered and impressed with his homage.
I'd advise you to read this novel if:
(a) you're an Iain Banks fan
(b) you like an interesting read that doesn't patronise or insult your intelligence
(c) you like 'Lanark'
(d) you're breathing
I'm sure we'd all fit into one of the above categories ;-p
However, if you have little patience and like things to be spelled out for you, avoid this novel at all costs. Banks leaves it up to you do pick at the elusive clues and make your own conclusions, so lazy readers beware. This is a fascinating, complex book, and I'd rate it as one of Banks' best to date. So go read it, now!!!
P.S. did any of you smarty pants work out the 'man in the hospital bed's ' name? Well there's two clues, if I give you the name, see if you can work out where I found it...Alexander Lennox.
Thanks for reading :-)
Iain Banks was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in Scotland in 1954 and was educated at Stirling University where he read English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988. The Bridge was written in 1986 after the success of the Wasp Factory. Orr, the otherwise unnamed main character of the novel, is a successful Scottish engineer who's fed up with his life. His work doesn't really interest him anymore; years of alcohol abuse and smoking marijuana has dulled his life; his girlfriend has other lovers (he also has lover, but he would rather his lover remained dedicated to him). Then one evening he crashes his classic Jaguar into a parked MG. The aftermath is coma and months of amnesiac trance. The Bridge is what the reader comes to know as reality. However it is what Orr has created in his mind to deal with his trauma. The Bridge stretches from nowhere to nowhere. He creates an alternate unreal life within this fantasy where he has lude relations with women. However this invented life is a parallel with his own dissatisfying life, he is a low level engineer with little to no rights on the bridge. He constantly is haunted by disgusting images of his crash site, a bridge whereby there are dozens of voluptuous women on one side, but he cannot reach them. These images progress to disgusting illusions of women eating their own faeces. He has illusions that he is in a hospital bed in a coma with his ex girlfriend staring over him. The irony is that although he thinks this is an illusion, it is reality haunting him. Constantly trying to find ways to escape is a parody of his mind trying to escape this unreality that is the "bridge". The narrative fiercly condemns an over mechanistic society that the West has become. The novel stands out in Bank's literary works as it has a happy ending, Orr wakes up to his girlfriend's loving arms and is freed from the unreality of the
bridge. The plot can be confusing at times especially for a first read, however if constantly interpreted and remembered it becomes clearer. The second read is fantastic as understanding becomes far easier. The work is open to many interpretations much like Banks' other literature. A definite must read for all Banks' fans and for all interested in the weird, yet interesting unreality that is the Bridge.
An early Iain Banks which reveals the way he puts his novels together, or at least the way he used to. This is, undoubtably, a 'clever' book and I don't mean that in the derogatory way I would usually, there are concepts involved with the telling of this tale that are complex and involved and require taking away and thinking about, not necessarily conciously but you will find yourself going, 'oh yeah that could mean...' or 'maybe he was talking about this as well'. The plot is that there is a man who was in a road accident and, in the real world, is in a coma. He is dwelling in a world within his own head, the world of the bridge and, as it says on the blurb on the back, is he nearly dead or more alive than he's ever been? The bridge is an endless structure that stretches forever in each direction. Supposedly there is a land called the kingdom at one end and the city at the other but no one has ever been there or seen them. The book explores the society of the bridge through the eyes of the main character who has awoken with no memory and is being treated for amnesia by a doctor. Banks weaves elements of past, present and future into the world of the bridge and as the novel progresses the ideas begin to take more and more varied and disturbing shape. Banks explores the psyche of his main character with metaphor, expounding his ideas on the surface of the reality he is trapped within. The character dreams and these dreams reflect different facets of his predicament, different facets of his personality and way of coping with the coma. The world of the bridge is the trap that the coma is in the real world. The interactions with other 'fictitious' characters in the world of the bridge represent the self awareness of the way he reacted to other people in the real world all done on a subconscious level. Later Banks starts to tell us of the characters life before the accident and the shadowing of the fanta
sy of the bridge with the reality of his previous life, which he doesn't remember, echoing one with the other is very effective. It adds an element of tradgedy to the periods on the bridge as you know you want him to manage to return to the real world and leave the bridge behind him. As I said the ideas behind patches of this book are very complex, the idea that you can reflect a persons psyche by the worlds they create for themselves subconsciously or the way they interact with themselves when removed from external influence is scratched by this book. Banks explores more deeply small areas of these topics but in the main leaves you the reader/writer to explore these concepts yourself in your own way. I think it is easy to read too much into the fantasy periods of this novel, the dreaming and the happenings on the bridge are written to be disjoint and confusing. I'm not sure but I don't think Banks had any definite ideas in mind to portray with these sections and left them unexplained knowing that you the reader would probably search for meaning in them and attribute deeper concepts than he could have written in to each concept. On the other hand there are some very definite second meanings behind some things, to give examples might spoil things so I wont but there are some clever scenarios put together in each world that link together and reflect each other nicely. A very skillfully written novel this offers a dichotomy, having read other Banks novels I am aware how well he structures most of his stories and even with that knowledge this book is put together very very cleverly. The flip side of this is that the writing style isn't as smooth as the later Banks novels, unsurprising really, you would expect and want a writer to improve over time and this is an early novel (his second after the wasp factory I believe) so the books of Banks' (sorry) I have read which he has written more recently are written with a better style (Against A Dar
k Background is probably the best example of this although I'm not sure how recent it is). So a smoothly polished structure with a less polished style which is what reduces this book to four stars, I nearly gave it three but the ideas are so good I had to err on the side of generosity. The one thing I didn't like about this book was the ending, it was too fast, almost hurried as if the publisher's deadline was approaching and Banks was nearly there ao he wrapped it up sharpish and popped it in the post. There are a few books by various authors I've read which end too quickly for my liking and I was dissapointed that Banks had done it too, other books of his I've read have been so carefully written as to allow me to think he would never do something so unsatisfying but here he has. Oh well maybe this was a necessary learning step in his writing, (I having never written a book am unaware how easy it is to fall into this trap so am being, very probably and quite usually, over critical) and has improved his later texts no end. In summary a clever book with myriad ideas which deserve further exploration, written well but not as well as the later Banks novels and with a hurried ending. A very good read, definitely one for Banks fans but not the best one to start with if you're new to him.
I have to confess that Iain (M) Banks is one of my favourite writers. For those who don't know, he writes under the name of Iain Banks for fiction novels and Iain M Banks for his science fiction. He is adept at both genres. This title however somehow manages to straddle both genres very well indeed. The book revolves around a man who wakes up on the foundation of a huge “bridge”, which disappears to the horizon in both directions. He doesn’t remember anything, he doesn’t know his name or how he got there. At first he is treated very well by a doctor, and is given nice clothes to wear and a place to live. Very soon though he is inexplicably “dropped” by the doctor and things start to go very bad from there as he enters the slums of the society and sets off along the bridge to see where it leads. The World Banks’ creates has an air of George Orwell’s 1984 about it to me. This is a world of paranoia. There is also a parallel story set in “reality” which is interesting in its own right, but has cunning references to the “Bridge” world, and vice versa. This leaves you feeling you have been given a clue to the outcome, but not really knowing quite what it is. Iain Banks intertwines his plots very well. At times a new character appears with no relation whatsoever to the book you are reading. You know by the end it will all come together, but until then he leaves you guessing or wanting more. In most cases this is in the form of a nice twist near the end. This really is a fantastic book, offering a real insight into Bank’s (very) dark imagination. If you have read any of his other books you will know what to expect in terms of content and quality, but you will also know you have no idea what to expect by the end of the book. This for me is one of his greatest assets. You simply cannot wait to see what happens at the end. This b
ook is very hard to put down once you start reading. I recommend “The Bridge” to any reader.
This is pure hype of course, but it is the most remarkable novel I have ever had the privilege to read. I doubt it will ever rank in the top 100 novels ever written, but I connected with it right away and it was one hell of a yarn relayed in a superb flowing style. the story opens with what seems like some kind of narrative. The voice is that of some bloke who is trapped in a strabge world. There are strong Orwellian overtones and there is a certain coldness to the environment. Our host appears to be receiving some kind of special treatment on what is eentially a huge living bridge. Things quickly move on and the reader starts to rewalise what is going on. All the events appear to be symbolic and representative of something from his past life. Or perhaps the life he is still living but is unaware of. I'll not say any more.
A man, comatose and memory gone, finds himself in a strange dream world where reality, fantasy, past and future mix.