Her finger stirred through what she had written yesterday, toying with the parchments; circling them around slowly; slowly flexing and turning, watched by her, watched by him.…
The finger moved on the desktop where she would write a short poem about him in the evening, one he would copy secretly in case she wasn’t happy with it and threw it out, and as his desire grew and her calm face saw no finger move, one of them was just a passing thing, just a leaf pressed between the pages of the other’s diary, and what they had talked themselves into, they could be silent out of.
Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons stands up all the way through as
a pretty good read, but when I read the good quotes over again after
having finished it, I thought it had slumped a little bit in my
recollection. His best book is probably The Wasp Factory, the
engaging story of a psychopathic child. Banks writes literary fiction
as “Iain Banks” and space-opera sci-fi as “Iain M. Banks”; Use of
Weapons is from his sci-fi side and shares the same conceit of a
galaxy-spanning impossibly advanced civilization as several of his
While I quite like the quoted passage above, what makes the book that
contains it fall short of my expectations is how the quoted passage
(and by extension, the other good passages I had highlighted) fits
into the rest of the book. I guess you can redeem a pop song with a
killer hook, but it’s hard to do the same thing with a novel. What I
learned from reading Anna Karenina last month is that a notable passage in a novel (or
at least that novel) does not coruscate by itself alone, but reflects
in its facets the structure and the themes of the rest of the novel.
In this passage, the hero is on vacation on a remote yet civilized
planet. He has commenced a love affair with the planet’s best poet.
The love affair is about to end and he will move on to another planet,
another assignment as a mercenary for the galactic civilization. The
entire chapter is set as a recollection within its overall structure
as a picaresque, and the chapter includes probably the densest
concentration of figurative language in the entire book. This quote is
the one that pulls together the best the reciprocated feelings between
the poet and the soldier. But still the chapter feels disposable
because the true vanishing point of the novel’s entire perspective is
placed somewhere else, in the relationship between the soldier and his
childhood companions. No matter what happens between the soldier and
the poet, it’s not going to change the outcome of the book or the fate
of its characters.