Consider Phlebas

In a bid to increase how much prose fiction I consume I’ve set myself the target of reading a decent-sized novel once a fortnight. (I read a LOT – but have become a bit lax when it comes to   novels). I’ve just finished Consider Phlebas, the first of Iain Banks’ Culture novels. It took me about 10 days to read.

I encountered the novel about 10 years ago and still believe it’s a decent read. What I picked up this time were two things. Firstly, it’s really a novel about futility. All the characters seem to struggle for things that are pointless or make little difference. Religious fanatacism is a minor theme of the novel and is dealt with in a similar fashion. Towards the end something happens that gives purpose for at least two if the characters – but this hopeful prospect is horribly ended. Secondly, there’s a noticeable lurch in the structure about a third of the way in. It starts as an anti-Culture novel with a straightforward plot and then shifts to multiple narrative voices which are particularly evident at the end. I’m not sure why Banks did this. While it worked well at the start, giving different perspectives (machine, someone thinking about events from a  distance) I think it made the ending seem a little too fragmentary (though I can appreciate that it may add to the confusion and chaos of the closing scenes). I like it a lot and look forward to rereading it in a decade.

I’m planning to rotate a genre novel with a recent literary novel and then a non-fiction book. So, up next is… Micheal Chabon’s new novel, Moonglow.

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