It’s Complicated Iain

To be honest narratology is not an area of literary theory that I had given a lot of thought to before beginning the MA in Modernities. This weeks lecture dealing with the various contributions of Genette, Walsh and Culler changed my perspective and for the first time I began to consider in more detail the various narrative voices I have encountered in my reading. A single name kept popping in to my mind and that name was Iain Banks.


Banks is the only novelist whose work I have followed completely through out his career. I encounter his first novel, The Wasp Factory as an audio book and it is, to this day, the only book I have experienced in this manner. Each subsequent novel I have read in turn. He also writes science fiction as Iain M. Banks but I have not followed this as thoroughly, dipping in and out over the intervening years. It is only know that I see a key defining aspect of his work which drew me to it in the early novels was an unusual approach to the narrative voice.
The most striking example of this is the use of second person narration in Complicity, Banks’ seventh novel.

‘You hear the car after an hour and a half. During that time you‘ve
been here in the darkness, sitting on the small telephone seat near
the front door, waiting.’ (1994:3)

It is the only example of this type which I have come across in mainstream fiction and lends the whole work a deeply unsettling tone. Banks sets this second person singular narrative within a wider metadiegetic framework which includes a further, first person narrative, a feature which the novelist has used several times. Oddly, despite this unusual device, Complicity is the only one of his books that have been made into a film.


In Walking On Glass, Banks’ second novel, the metadiegetic approach stretches to three narratives, all intertwined, all unreliable. Most interesting of these is Quiss, a war criminal imprisoned in the Castle of Bequest who is forced to play board games against Ajayi, another war criminal, from the opposing side in a galactic war. In The Bridge, his third novel, he develops a multilayered narrative with three protagonists who are all revealed as various aspects of the same person, each in turn representing the ego, the superego and the Id. One of these characters speaks in phonetic Scottish, a full seven years before Irvine Welsh borrowed the device for Trainspotting. It easy to see where the complications come from.
Unfortunately this experimentation has lessen somewhat with later work, to Bank’s detriment I would suggest. His work has developed more political tones and over time each novel seems to be more and more mainstream. I read on however in hope, buying his latest in hardback, unwilling to wait for a paperback copy. I can’t say I was disappointed, despite it all he’s still a very good writer. I just miss the experimentation. I miss being confused.

Works Citied

Banks, Iain. Complicity. London: Abacus, 1994. Print.

—. The Bridge. London: Abacus, 1990. Print.

—. Walking On Glass. London: Abacus, 1990. Print.

Welsh, Irvine. Trainspotting. London: Minerva, 1994. Print.

Trailer for the film Complicity (aka: Retribution). Youtube.com. 24 Jun. 2006. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

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