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The Bridge by Iain Banks

The Bridge (original 1986; edition 1990)

by Iain Banks (Author)

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1,752204,025 (3.68)47
Title:The Bridge
Authors:Iain Banks (Author)
Info:Abacus (1990), 400 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Bridge by Iain Banks (1986)


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I first read The Bridge 25 years ago and thought it one of the best books I had ever read. Coming back to it after all this time I did wonder if it would hold up. Banks has always been one of my favourite authors and thankfully this novel is as strange, moving and funny as it was all those years ago.

The book takes place on a vast bridge where society is strictly regimented based on job, class and dialect. It soon becomes apparent that John Orr, as our protagonist is named by his doctor, is an amnesiac, memory last after an accident. He is under the care of a Doctor Joyce who analyses dreams as a form of treatment. But Orr has no dreams, so makes them up. The bridge is Kafkaesque in it's convoluted bureaucracy and once Orr stops playing the game he finds himself demoted, cast aside. Yesterday's news. His only ally is the Chief Engineer's daughter, Abberlaine Arrol - a decadent, confident young woman who takes Orr to bed as well as under her wing.

There are many layers to this book. It is soon obvious that all of this is inside the head of an unnamed coma patient. Strands of his personality, such as the huge barbarian warrior who speaks in broad Glaswegian and travels a fantasy land peopled with mythical characters such as Charon the Ferryman and Prometheus, are struggling to knit themselves back into a whole.

The novel becomes darker. War breaks out. Orr travels the length of the bridge, stowing away on an express. The imagery becomes more surreal, the horror more explicit.

But interspersed amongst the fantasy there are passages where a life is remembered. A man grows up in Scotland, meets the love of his life, experiences loss, success and all the things that come with love. It is here that Banks flies, foreshadowing the prose of such Scottish sagas as The Crow Road, Espedair Street and even The Quarry. There is a sweet melancholy to these passages and they are my favourite part of the book.

Some might say that Banks never reached these heights again and maybe his decision to split his writing into SF and contemporary fiction robbed him of something. Certainly he never attempted this hybrid again until Transition, many years later, and that book is bonkers, but not a patch on The Bridge. Fiercely inventive, brilliantly written and utterly human, this is a book you need to read. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
As a non-native speaker the phonetic chapters were a real show-stopper for me. In feersum endjinn, I could have had a clue from the title, here I was surprised after a few chapters. Pity. ( )
  bluyssae | Oct 4, 2016 |
A man in a coma after crashing on the Forth Bridge dreams his way back towards waking. Or does he? It's not a question of a twist: we know going in this is a coma dream. We also know that there is nothing as dull as listening to other people's dreams (our own are so much more interesting.) But Iain Banks is the dream-master, and this, in essence, is a fictional world within a fictional world, an idea made explicit from the start as dream-man invents dreams to recount to his dream therapist who is treating his amnesia because he doesn't dream. Dream man was fished from the waters below an apparently endless bridge with no memories of who he is or where he came from. In treatment, he lives a more or less blissful life under the benevolent rule of the bridge, enjoying a mildly hedonistic lifestyle punctuated with generally unsatisfactory visits to his dream therapist. He has begun a desultory investigation into the bridge itself, with the only result a better understanding of how little he understands.

So is he finding his way back to wakefulness? Or is he finally living the life he always wanted?

At the heart of the book is a love story, or an attempt to write a mature, modern (for the late 80s early 90s modern) love story devoid of the usual conventions but with the same universal emotional core. Our couple are modern, well-educated, liberal. He's climbing out of the working and into the middle class, an rationalist, materialist engineer, she comes from moderate wealth, an intellectual, a linguist and if not a believer then less committed to rationalism then he is. All these things subtly and indirectly provide the raw materials that go into constructing the Bridge, and it is through all this the man must find his way and decide if that's a life he wants back.

Brilliantly written, this still dazzles, even as it prefigures the dazzling baroque world-building of the Culture and the tales of Scottish adults and how their lives were shaped by their experiences as youths. It also firmly sets out the notion that though Banks, and most of his protagonists, firmly and categorically do not believe in God, the human imagination that produced Him is a mighty one indeed. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Probably Banks’s strangest novel, where you’re not quite sure until the end what’s a dream and what’s reality. To describe the plot would be to spoil it, but the narrative is fragmented with what seems to be the main plot intercut with multiple dream sequences and a seemingly contemporary story. It’s a story which depends on the ending being solid to work, to tie all the threads together. Unusually for Banks the ending is actually satisfactory, even if it feels a tad perfunctory after all that’s come before. A fun journey but perhaps not quite worth the trip over the bridge. ( )
  JonArnold | Jun 21, 2015 |
I don't have particularly strong feelings about this book one way or another. I liked the style of writing and would read more by Banks, but this story wasn't especially accessible for me. ( )
  The_Kat_Cache | Jun 7, 2015 |
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Iain Banksprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brown, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Trapped. Crushed. Weight coming from all directions, entangled in the wreckage (you have to become one with the machine).
You don't belong to her and she doesn't belong to you, but you're both part of each other; if she got up and left now and walked away and you never saw each other again for the rest of your lives, and you lived an ordinary waking life for another fifty years, even so on your deathbed you would know she was part of you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0349102155, Paperback)

The man who wakes up in the extraordinary world of a bridge has amnesia, and his doctor doesn't seem to want to cure him. Does it matter? Exploring the bridge occupies most of his days. But at night there are his dreams. Dreams in which desperate men drive sealed carriages across barren mountains to a bizarre rendezvous; an illiterate barbarian storms an enchanted tower under a stream of verbal abuse; and broken men walk forever over bridges without end, taunted by visions of a doomed sexuality. Lying in bed unconscious after an accident wouldn't be much fun, you'd think. Oh yes? It depends who and what you've left behind. Which is the stranger reality, day or night? Frequently hilarious and consistently disturbing, THE BRIDGE is a novel of outrageous contrasts, constructed chaos and elegant absurdities.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:53 -0400)

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