Magazine article The Spectator

Driving on a Dark Night

Magazine article The Spectator

Driving on a Dark Night

Article excerpt

DEAD AIR by Iain Banks

Little Brown, L16.99, pp. 408, ISBN 0316860549

Ken Nott is the most annoying man in England. It's his job (he's a shock jock, a prime-time talk-radio DJ), and also his hobby (he's unfaithful to his girlfriend, has bedded his best mate's wife, and, worst of all, likes to take his controversial opinions into the pub with him). And then, just when you thought he couldn't be any more irritating, he attends a flash drinks party where he meets - on a roof, and, yes, in a thunderstorm - Celia, a mysterious and beautiful woman who apparently wants nothing more than to have passionate, nostrings-attached sex with him in a series of eight-star hotels. The only downside is that her husband is a violent criminal.

This is just one of the many U-turns, dead ends and blind corners in Dead Air. Someone (I think it was E. L. Doctorow) said that writing a novel was like nocturnal driving: you can't see further than your headlights, but you get there in the end. If that's the case, then Banks was driving on a very dark night. The opening scene, in which high jinks at a party are cut short by the news that an aeroplane has crashed into the World Trade Center, suggests themes that are picked up nowhere else in the book (except, bizarrely, in the cover artwork). The juxtaposition has its emotional effect, but it feels like cheap manipulation. At another point, Nott is the victim of a honey trap. This wasn't, it turns out, set up by the cuckolded crim, but by a businessman who was seen by Nott committing a driving offence and now wants him silenced. …

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