Fearful Symmetry

Film. Books. Comics. TV. Music.

Complicity by Iain Banks

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I first read Complicity in a day. The narrative locks you in from the opening words – in the second person, ‘you do this, you do that’, making you complicit in the action – and does not let you go all the way through the intense plot until the final downbeat paragraphs.

Cameron Colley is a hack journalist who tries to emulate his hero Hunter S Thompsom, if not in writing success then at least in narcotics consumption. He’s just cocked up his big chance at writing the big story. But now he has a hope of redemption. An anonymous ‘Deep Throat’ has been contacting him giving him clues to an apparently unconnected series of gruesome murders that point the way to the fact that the victims were all part of a conspiracy to create a shady arms deal. However as the investigation continues Cameron ends up having to confront issues arising from his own family history.

Banks underscores the action with a long scream of anger against the right wing establishments that allow such arms deals to go ahead, even to be encouraged. Although there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since it was written, these issues are still relevant, if not more so when considering examples like the references to the first Gulf War.

However the lesson that All Tories Are Bastards is actually brought over much more subtly in The Wasp Factory. Complicity was written to shock , and it does, but The Wasp Factory still has a greater effect. And Complicity does get a little preachy in places, thought the absolute power of the writing in the final chapters more than makes up for that.

... and film

... and film

This was the first time I’ve read the book and watched the film straight after. The latter is real let down compared to the source material. There is a solid cast – with a strong Jonny Lee Miller as the lead, though Keeley Hawes seems a bit too nice at heart to really bring off Yvonne – and it was directed and produced by the same team that created the rather excellent television adaptation of The Crow Road. This latter fact may have contributed to the main problem in that the whole thing looks far too small screen, coming over more like a made for television drama (or “An episode of Taggart” as a neighbour of Banks apparently remarked to him). And there are a couple of real misjudgements in the direction – like putting up a prominent photograph of a burns victim in the background to one of the more tense and intimate scenes where you really do not want any distractions from the actors’ performances.

In adapting the book, liberties have been taken with the plot – which is to be expected – but these go much too far in many places, such as bringing in more than one red herring into the plot proper. Points that were subtle in the book are sledge-hammered home. Plus the whole things just moves too fast with far too much plot crammed into the running time. There’s barely time to catch your breath at some points, never mind digest what is happening, before you are off into the next scene. It’s easy to see why the film only got a limited release before going to DVD.

I’d love to see more adaptations of Banks work… especially The Wasp Factory, though there is nothing on the horizon on that score. We’ll just have to make due with this rather neat student project title sequence.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 17, 2009 at 10:42 am

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