Friday, October 27, 2006

Book Group Review - Complicity by Iain Banks

Complicity is a novel that can be read on two different levels; as a mystery, and as political and social commentary on the Thatcher years. I was somewhat disappointment by the book, because I felt the structure, plot, and narrative of the book was a poor vehicle for the central idea. The novel’s lack of subtlety and control makes one feel bludgeoned over the head with the idealogy behind it.

However to be fair, Complicity still reads as a competent mystery novel, and proves to be stylistically interesting. The choice of using a second person narrative proved to work effectively since it makes the reader complicit in the act of the killing. I felt slightly uncomfortable during those scenes which surprised me because I have read enough thrillers to usually feel desensitized to the violence.

Additionally, I found the last scenes of the book to be memorable as Banks gives us his bleak, nihilistic view of our world. The first to second person switch also makes us aware that while Cameron feels disgusted with his friend’s actions, he nonetheless agrees with the motives and point behind them. Unfortunately I do not have enough expertise on the political environment of the UK during the 80s and early 90s to grasp the finer points of his views, but am highly interested in everyone’s opinions on the political commentary found in Complicity.

To me, the most disappointing thing is that comparatively I know Banks as a far superior author than what he shows in Complicity. Gerald Houghton summarized it best when he reviews the book by stating:

Too often of late Banks seems unable to do justice to his ideas, the intelligence and sophisticated plotting of books like Walking On Glass or the aforementioned The Wasp Factory giving way to a breakneck jokiness that although entertaining enough in itself comes off as lightweight and lazy from the man capable of writing books as driven and purposeful as The Bridge or The Player Of Games.


Iain Banks, is a far better novelist than Complicity would suggest. I highly recommend some of the reading mentioned above especially The Bridge, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons before you write him off.

1 comment:

rauten said...

I have read so many books since this one, that my comments will be superficial at best and completely invalid at the worst. It does lead to an interesting point of discussion though. If someone reads a book and then, immediately upon finishing, writes down their thoughts; how different is that from what their impression of the book is months after reading it? In other words, what does a book leave behind in your memory months after you have finished it, and even years after you have finished it. This almost makes me wish that I had a list of all the books that I have read so that I could write down what I remember and what my thoughts are on them and then read the book again. I wish I had more time to write on this, but I don't. I will list some books that I have read in the past few years that are especially memorable.

-Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Okay this is bad. I simply can't remember the names or authors of the books that I want to include. I can picture where they are on my book shelf, but alas I am not at home.

Anyway, back to Complicity or should I call it "Simplicity". I really didn't like it very much. I found the writing style of the author to be grating. I had a weird impression that this book was just his (the author's) wet dream and that he secretly wanted his life to be just like that of the protagonist. As we all know, abusing substances and having kinky sex with someone who is married rocks and makes a person who would otherwise be an ordinary joe into a fascinating human being worthy of being the main protagonist in a novel. Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis do a much better job of developing characters that are similar to Cameron Colley.

I also think that the author kept trying to be profound and make these important statements about life and the world. I wasn't impressed with his attempts. This may sound conceited.. I enjoy reading books where an author makes comments about life and society, however I prefer that the author is smarter than me or at least is introducing ideas that are new to me (I think that this past comment is related to Complicity, if not I will have to check my bookshelf to see what I am referring to).

Complicity was a weird mix of predictable and not predictable. I deduced who the real murderer was at an early stage and I found the author's attempts to lead me to suspect other characters to be futile and insulting at times. I also found that the protagonist's struggle with whether or not to call the police on his "friend" at the end of the book to be tiresome. Oh the dilemma! It provided such insight into the protagonist's character I just didn't know what to do with myself. I don't remember what I found unpredictable about the book, but I know that there were some things.

I do remember that I didn't feel that reading this book was a complete waste. I enjoyed the graphic scenes near the end. I think page 45 was well written. For some reason I can't really express why I liked page 45, but I will try. Most children do things like this at some point in their lives. By things like this I mean something that seems slightly dangerous like playing with fire and/or doing something for no apparent reason that isn't that interesting yet for some reason you always remember doing it and the feeling that you had when you did it.

I am out of time. I wish I had some time to proof read what I wrote--it was mostly stream of consciousness. I must say Cindy, you are very talented at reviewing a book. It makes posting mildly intimidating. I envy either your talent or the time you have to devote to this activity or both. It has been a lot of fun attempting to write down my thoughts, etc. Thanks for organizing the on-line book group.