Friday, November 20, 2020

this book is dead good

One further note following the Harvest post: the bit near the end where the hitherto sober, stolid and unadventurous protagonist Walter goes on a homebrew bender and then chows down a load of dubious mushrooms as a hangover cure is oddly jarring, the mushroom bit in particular, and the section which follows (basically most of the remainder of the book) has a weirdly woozy, spooked quality to it which could just be the after-effects of a skinful of ale and some hallucinogenic shrooms, but also just made me wonder: are we perhaps meant to infer that Walter has died? I guess the shrooms are the most likely culprit if so, and what follows would be some extended point-of-death hallucination à la Jacob's Ladder, or some sort of weird afterlife shit. A similar reading is much more explicitly suggested by Lanark, as I mentioned at the time.

Another book where this sort of reading is possible, and may even be the most sensible reading, is Iain Banks' Dead Air, which I read back in 2015. You'll recall the ill-advised drunken answerphone message which Ken goes on a wholly implausible breaking-and-entering spree to try to erase before sinister gangster type John Merrial can hear it, and the horribly efficient abduction of Ken by Merrial's henchmen once Merrial views the CCTV footage shortly afterwards. Ken, gaffer-taped to a chair in some dingy London basement, fully expects to be killed once Merrial has interrogated him a bit, and literally shits himself fairly early in the ordeal, just to prove he's taking things seriously. But, after a convincingly outraged performance from Merrial's wife Celia following the suggestion that she and Ken have been fucking (which they totally have been, needless to say), Merrial cools off a bit and lets Ken go, with strict finger-wagging warnings about what will happen to him if he ever blabs about any of this. 

I mean, maybe it's just me, but it strikes me that a proper ruthless gangster would probably just have Ken rubbed out at this point, rather than leaving him free to shoot his mouth off indiscreetly, something it was after all literally his job to do as a talk-radio host. So maybe the best approach is to view the brief epilogue where Merrial fucks off to Amsterdam semi-permanently and Ken and Celia are free to go semi-public with their relationship and eventually skip through the streets of Glasgow hand-in-hand as being as real as the last section of Vanilla Sky, only without quite as many Scientologists.

The really annoying bit about all this is that I'm convinced there's a small section in Dead Air, probably buried in one of Ken's pop-culture rants, which mentions a film or a book which uses this plot device (there have, after all, been many), something which is just possibly meant to foreshadow the book's ending and give you a clue about how to interpret it. Of course I'm fucked if I can find it now, short of re-reading the entire book, and it's too late to ask Banks himself for a ruling from the chair.

[EDIT] I'm going to break with tradition and put this here, rather than in another post: I found it, on page 232 of my copy. It's a brief discussion between Ken and one of his mates about the ending of Total Recall (the 1990 Arnie version), and the fairly respectable theory that the whole middle and end sections of the film were a dream and that Doug Quaid aka Arnie has never left the couch at Rekall. Is it meant to be a clue? Who knows?

Lastly, anyone following me on Twitter and wondering about the provenance of the various scurrilous cropped sections of text in this thread should wonder no longer: it is of course extracts from Moby-Dick

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