Dead boring...

Dead boring…

“You’re breaking up.”

This blog seems to keep coming full circle as I return to authors that I first read towards the beginning of my time here. The Wasp Factory was one of those first books and, despite myself and despite the content, I really enjoyed it. Thinking I’d try Banks again for a similar experience, I got hold of Dead Air, but the results were not to be repeated. Here comes one of those rare but sometimes necessary things: a bad review.

Dead Air is the story of Ken Nott, an opiniated leftie radio DJ whose job exists continually on a knife edge as he keeps on saying things on air that land him in trouble. Off the air, his life is just as complicated. His girlfriend Jo is becoming more and more distant, he’s just started an affair with the wife of a London crime lord, and at least one attempt has just been made on his life. This all takes place against the backdrop of September 11th, which has just happened, changed the world, and shaken up everything we knew to be safe and true.

The plot (such as it is) is uninteresting and takes so long to kick in that you really can’t get a good enough grip on it to care very much. All the actual story doesn’t happen until the last ninety pages or so. Before that, Banks has gone for the rather novel approach of forgetting to tell a compelling story to having the main character simply rant about anything and everything he chooses to, from music to immigration. It’s hard to tell exactly how much overlap there is between Ken’s views and Banks’s views, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s 100%.

Ken is not a likeable protagonist and while that sometimes works, here it simply doesn’t. He’s self-absorbed, a liar and a cheat, who seems to suffer little mental anguish for the hurt he causes other people (although perhaps, in fairness to him, he doesn’t often let them know what he’s been doing, to save them from that hurt). The other characters are flat and there simply for Ken to rant at, while they butt in with further comments to fuel his ranting. I’m not denying that the rants contain some very well-written language, because some of them do, but there are just too many of them. This isn’t a novel – it’s Banks attempting to share all of his thoughts with the world through an unpleasant mouthpiece.

Granted, there are some excellent red herrings thrown into the book and you can be certain about why something is happening, only to have the rug pulled from under you a few chapters later. However, the book overall was a disappointment. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the blurb on the novel’s back places emphasis on the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, but in actuality this is merely wallpaper to a story that’s trying very hard to be modern but already, just twelve years later, seems out of date. It claims to be a thriller, but it is not in the least thrilling.

I’m sure Banks is an excellent author – I know he can be – but this is most certainly not one of his best, and it has made me wary.

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