** spoiler alert ** (It turns out that the prospect of actually having to write something means a delayed review. Hm.)
In The Bridge a man is in an automobile accident and awakes, without his memory, on the eponymous Bridge. There, as John Orr (a friendlier variation on John Doe), he is undergoing therapy, trying to uncover his memories and exploring the world he’s found himself in.
The Bridge finds Banks further exploring some of the more successful bits of Walking on Glass — the fantasy chapters, with a character exploring an environment he knows very little about. Whereas in Walking on Glass, that structure was an ever-changing castle built of glass and books, here it is a vast suspension bridge, running from the City to the Kingdom, over the course of hundreds of sections. As Orr explores the bridge, he finds it changeable and uncooperative. For example, a library he feels might hold some answers as to his identity and history proves especially elusive; nobody can direct him to it, even though they acknowledge its existence; he finds his way there once, only to find it missing and the general area on fire, and after that, cannot retrace his steps to find it again.
To go along with this flight of fancy, there are other, shorter ones; dreams that Orr has or hasn’t had — odd, detailed, different. Here, instead of calling back to an earlier novel, it’s almost as if banks is calling forward; a recurring dream is told first-person in a Scots accent, something Banks would revisit in Feersum Endjinn, and there’s more than one explicit Culture reference, even though Consider Phlebas hadn’t yet been published.
Some part of Orr is complacent, happy to be anonymously lost, and so both his conscious and subconscious conspire to shake up that complacency; here the book becomes fragmented — a love story, a travelogue, a dream journal, all leading somewhere.
I felt on this re-read the same way I felt originally, that the second half of the book, on getting away from the conceit of the Bridge, became a bit muddled, and the ending was a bit overwrought. Still an excellent read, showing Banks’ progress as a writer, and compelling all the way through.