Canal Dreams is the first book I have read by Iain Banks apart from The Wasp Factory. My boyfriend is a massive fan of his science fiction (which he wrote under the name Iain M. Banks), and, from what he has said and from the two books I have read, I can conclude two things.
Firstly, he was an amazing writer, with the ability to both create a science fiction universe which completely works, which people want to live in, and which features aliens who are not humanistic nor share many human traits. He has also created some beautiful and heartbreaking stories which take place in our world.
Secondly, his books are insanely gory. I don’t mean just in the way that, say, Game of Thrones can be gory (blood everywhere, people getting dismembered): his books contain stories of people doing horrible things to each other, and usually in the worst way possible. More than that, it is often incredibly disturbing.
Let’s go back to Canal Dreams at this point, and I will show you what I mean. Canal Dreams is the story of a Japanese cellist who has a great fear of flying, and as a result is attempting to get to Europe via boat. The majority of the novel takes place when she is stuck on the Panama Canal during an uprising. The name of the book presumably comes from the dreams which Hisako, the protagonist, keeps having. All of these dreams are disturbing, but I will tell you of one in particular: she is lying on the sand with other people from her ship. People come up to them, and touch a part of their bodies (their hand, their torso), which instantly turns to gold and drops off, leaving the rest of the body alive and squirming on the sand. Interestingly, a lot of worse things happen over the course of the book in Hisako’s waking life, but this image is the one which has stayed with me the longest.
The creepiness of Hisako’s dreams feeds into her feelings of guilt which she has been holding since something happened to her many years before, which is revealed via flashbacks in the second half of the book. It is a beautiful portrait of a lonely life, which makes this book (if not all of Iain Banks’s books) well worth reading. My only recommendation is that you do not read it just before going to sleep, so that your dreams may not mirror Hisako’s.