Historically I've struggled with Iain Banks novels. Three out of four of his novels that I've started have ended up on my didnt-finish shelf. Iain M. Banks is a another case entirely mind – his science-fiction I adore. So, it was with some trepidation that I ventured into another of Banks' non-science-fiction novels. But, Louise had a copy knocking about and it was listed in the [b:1 001 Books You Must Read Before You Die]
book so when it reached the top of the to-read list I decided to give it a go.
Ken Nott is a radio DJ, a shock-jock, for a commercial London radio station called Capital Live! (not in anyway supposed to sound like Capital FM I suspect). He's argumentative, not overly likeable, and a bit of a whore. Somehow Banks still manages to make him readable – for a start he's clever (although not usually wise), and funny and very quick with his responses, which do seem to distract you from his lack of any real kind of moral fibre. When not insulting religious groups on his show, picking up women in bars or drinking with his mates, he is managing to cheat on his girlfriend with the most beautiful women he has ever seen. Who, just happens to be the wife of London's most notorious gangster. So, no chance of anything going wrong there then.
Dead Air is the term for any time when a radio station should be broadcasting something, but is in fact silent. Generally stations fear these gaps like people do awkward pauses in conversations, but some radio DJs deliberately use these gaps for effect. I wonder if, in this context it is also trying to refer to something else? Empty airspace over London maybe? A pause in people's lives as the events of 9/11 hit them? Many reviewers have described this as a post-9/11 novel, and to an extent it is – it is both written and set after that event. But it doesn't really seem to dwell on the event. It is mentioned briefly as the news breaks while most of the characters are at a party, and there are a couple of references to quieter skies and people feeling less trusting on the tube, but that's it. This isn't some huge 9/11 statement that I could see.
In fact, the biggest political section of the book is where Ken sets himself up against a holocaust denier which has quite a long teased build-up giving you lots of opportunity to try and work out his secret plan. Rather than lowering himself to arguing with the man on television, instead just as the interview starts, he leaps across the table and punches the guy in the face. "What did you do that for?" Ken is asked, "Do what?" he says.
It's a slow starter, very slow; a couple of times I really wondered if I was going to see the whole thing through or not. But as the book wore on, Ken wormed his way into my affections and I started to care (a little bit anyway). It helped that the pace of the book picks up (slowly) as it progresses and eventually his life begins to truly fall apart. Most of the other characters are fairly thin, but we are seeing it from Ken's point-of-view and he's a fairly shallow individual, so that actually kinda makes sense, and the ending is a little too neat maybe, but maybe I've misjudged Iain Banks without the M. and I need to go restart some of those books that I gave up on before. Finally, surely at least some bonus points for managing to have an entire page and a half of text contained in a single set of parentheses – that's some side-statement!