His protagonist here is Ken Nott, a character as penetratingly realised as ever. He's a committed contrarian, ekeing out a living as a left-wing radio shock-jock in London. He makes his home in a loft apartment in the East End, in a former factory due to be demolished in a few days. After a wedding breakfast, people begin to pitch fruit from a balcony on to a deserted car park 10 storeys below; then they begin dispatching other things: a broken TV, a loudspeaker with a ruptured cone, bean bags and other useless furniture. Then the guests enter a kind of frenzy and start dropping things that are still working, at the same time trashing the rest of the apartment. But suddenly mobile phones start to ring urgently and they're told to turn on the TV, because a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center. And Ken Nott finds his life is to change irrevocably.
Banks's subject here is nothing less than the survival of the individual in the face of a chaotic world. The destruction of personality under the lacerating values of modernity is a subject repeatedly addressed by JG Ballard (and that author's shadow is clearly evident here), and although this is one of the Iain Banks novels in which he pointedly does not use the "M" in his name that marks his science fiction, this nightmare vision of contemporary London has more than a trace of that genre in its sense of fractured reality. But all the caustic humour and dark character development that Banks excels in are fully in place. --Barry Forshaw