Complicity – Iain Banks

I’m still not sure what to think about this book, because I bought it based on the cover, having no idea what to expect. And then it surprised me a bit. I expected something more literary, what I got was a brutal and layered thriller. So we have a case of mixed feelings.

As a thriller it was not bad, as something more literary it was a bit disappointing. It is a story of an Edinburgh journalist, Cameron, who is, we may say, a tad immature. He is addicted to speed, drinks way more than he should, but in an effort to improve himself tries to quit smoking (with moderate success). He is also addicted to computer games.

Cameron gets a tip off about potential conspiracy that resulted in death of five people. His source claims to be closely connected to the government. Cameron between the bouts of being drugged and drunk tries to follow up on the story and impatiently awaits further information from his source. In the meantime, he works on a story about whisky, which would not be important, but it does show his political and anti-corporate leanings. Cameron wants to fight the system, he hates Thatcherism, finance, corporations and capitalism.

He has one friend, Andrew, an ex-entrepreneur, living in a dilapidated ex-hotel and grieving for his sister, that died years ago. He also has a lover, she is married, and he knows both of them since the university. That does not stop the affair. Clearly Cameron is no saint, but he still thinks he is a good man.

As Cameron continues his erratic investigation, a series of murders and mutilations takes place in the UK. The detailed depictions of those are interspersed with Cameron’s actions and told from a different perspective, the narrator here addresses the criminal, as if telling him a fairy-tale about his sadistic actions. An interesting formal tool. Of course, at some point both storylines converge and Cameron find himself in the thick of it.

It was a pretty decent thriller, with strong political streak. The disillusionment with the politics of the 80’s (the book was published in 1993 and the early 90’s feeling is strong), the general lack of hope for improvement, for the happy end. It is a dark book, written in an often brutal language, not avoiding violence and sex, in a way that rarely happens nowadays. It is does not glorify violence, but describes it in it’s disgusting bloody and carnal aspect. An interesting read, but I’m not sure I want more.

But if you’re disillusioned now it’s partly because of what I’m talking about; the radicalism of Thatcher that seemed so fresh. That promise, that lean, trimmed-down fitness we could all look forward to; here was the chance to follow one dynamic plan, pushed by somebody who wasn’t going to chicken out halfway through. Stripping away all the inefficiencies, the cosy deals, the feather-bedding, the smothering worst of the nanny-state; it was a breath of clean new air, it was a crusade; something we could all take part in, all be part of.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

2 thoughts on “Complicity – Iain Banks

  1. I felt much the same way when I read this, although I read it not long after it came out so the political context was fresher.
    I found I was deeply unsympathetic to the main characters venal nature. I wondered whether a point was being made about how our compulsion make us complicit but decided I didn’t care.


  2. Pingback: November round-up –

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