The blurb on the back of my copy makes it sound like the opening sequence to BBC’s Life on Mars (to the point I wonder where the inspiration for Life on Mars actually came from):
A man lies in a coma after a near-fatal accident. His body broken, his memory vanished, he finds himself in the surreal world of the bridge – a world free of the usual constraints of time and space, a world where dream and fantasy, past and future, fuse. Who is this man? Where is he? Is he more dead than alive? Or has he never been so alive before?’
Last two lines aren’t as heavily ‘Injury Lawyers 4 U’ as the opening two lines of Life of Mars, but still up there.
I can’t remember what made me pick up this book in the bookshop; it was another Banks novel I wanted to read. I don’t know, maybe I thought of dreams when I happened upon the cover. These days I don’t dream of bridges; I dream of houses and schools I’ve known, the seemingly normal architecture on the outside at odds with the labyrinth of secret rooms and passageways within. Nevertheless, the first recurring dream I had was of walking along the pedestrian bridge over the dual-carriageway near where I lived at the time. No matter how many times I dreamt of that bridge, I was never able to cross it in my dreams, always surprised I could walk across the construction in real life without it crumbling beneath my feet.
The bridge presented in the novel is also constructed in both physical and metaphysical place. The plot is disarmingly easy as you can see above, but the multitude of selves which are addressed fattens out this particular plot beautifully.
It reminded me of Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World for the parallel storylines taking place. Whereas Murakami has two central figures in two distinctly separate worlds, Iain Banks has three worlds which (like Murakami’s worlds) faintly echo in the other. There is the world of Alex which has a fixed time and place that we are familiar with; there is the surreal world of John Orr, and finally the primitive accent-inflected folk tale of the Barbarian. These three stories are told over the course of the novel which is separated into the following chapters: Coma, Metaphormosis, Triassic, Metamorpheus, Eocene, Metamorphosis, and Coda.
The essay I most enjoyed writing in university was one on the nature of the autobiography using Wordsworth’s Prelude as a central text. I could have written a dissertation on it as the subject matter was so interesting to me (couldn’t say so much for Wordsworth himself, I still have dreams convincing people ‘he was a prick! And a bad friend’).
The Bridge reminds me of the essay, bringing to mind what has hold over me regarding the implications of writing an autobiography. When we write our experiences, along with confessing our deeds (for man is a confessing animal as Rousseau says), recording the events which shaped us, justifying who we are now based on our personal history, there is also a lingering half-full/half-empty question that I think on when I read books like this. Is it a division of selves that take place when we write our lives: exactly how far do we separate ourselves now from ourselves past; or is it that in the process of writing our autobiography we pick up, collect and reunite together these selves discarded like skins over our lifetime into a whole being?
Ah well, no matter how you see the glass, whether the question even matters anything at all in the grand scheme of things, Banks’ The Bridge is still brilliant in my opinion and worth reading.
BONUS: If you liked Ballard’s mechanical sex fetish running throughout Crash, you’ll dig the infrastructure inspired sex scene in this book. Promise.