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Iain Banks - Walking on Glass (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Most people will tell you that this was Iain Banks's second published novel. They're probably right. Trouble is, this barely classes as a novel.

Many of you have probably seen the Sin City movie. This novel has a similar structure; three somewhat interlinked stories. It is also oddly surreal.

As three novellas, Walking on Glass is decent although simplistic, especially by Banks' standards.

There is the tale of Graham Park, a young man struck with love. The six chapters of this tale are each named after a street he walks down to reach his beloved's house. In each, he reflects back on parts of their relationship. As he slowly gets closer to it, these flashbacks move slowly through the whole history of his odd crush on the odd and enigmatic Sara ffitch (sic). We slowly realise that something is wrong with the picture, and, in classic Banks style, that something is surprising and just a little sick.

Then there is the tale of Steven Grout. Grout is a paranoid man who believes that he is a soldier from a great war who has been exiled on Earth. His 'Tormentors' use a variety of fiendish devices on him, including the microwave gun that makes him hot'n'sweaty during important conversations. He can't find them, but he knows they're there, and is slowly assembling proof, in the hope of escaping back to his 'real' life. Each chapter charts a conversation with one person he knows, begining with his former boss (as he quits), and moving through his landlady, 'Clerk Stark' at the social security office and so on...

And, finally, there's Quiss, who actually is an exiled soldier from a great war. He and his companion are stuck in a bizzare and twisted castle, with no choice but to play strange board games. Each chapter is named after a board game; One Dimensional Chess, Open-Plan Go and so on. These games themselves are the products of Banks' twisted imagination; who else would think up a form of Go played on an infinite board with infinitely long pieces? Anyway, each time they work out the rules of and then complete one of these games, they get a chance to answer the riddle ["What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?"]. Should they answer it correctly, they can leave their mazelike prison. Their other option - as an annoying crow reminds them - is suicide. Question is though: What is the castle? Does it have a purpose other than to entertain the two of them? Why are the kitchens so damn large? This whole tale is surreal and strange.

So, three very different novellas between which Walking on Glass alternates. Are they connected?

Well, yes. In a way. Superficially, their plots barely intersect (or do they?) but thematically, each is a tale of insanity and self-deception. All three protagonists are imprisoned by their own minds and so on.


But wait - there's more. The story ends with each character in or near a tunnel (well, except Quis; he's playing Tunnel instead, which is like Bridge, but not). Funny that.

Truth is, this is actually a tale of three different perceptions of the world. Graham believes in the world is as we see it. Grout and Quiss believe in a war from which they are exiled. In the end, Grout is interned in an asylum, and see an old couple playing board games. He no longer believes in the war etc. Quiss, on the other hand, has found a new escape, through which the castle's previous inhabitants have gained parasitic mental access to past humans, watching their lives through their eyes and so on.

Two explanations, then. Either Quiss is a crazy old man in the asylum, and Park and Grout's England is real, or Grout's paranoia was real and the result of a future soldier actually sharing his mind with him.


And what of Graham Park, his 'gay' friend and strange girl? Why do Slater and Sara have uncontrollable urges? Why were they fucking over Graham so much?


So, three stories, releated on a subtextual level and barely in terms of plot. That's the novel's big failing. Aside from Graham's twisted story, the strength is simply how much Banks manages to twist and bewilder and deceive his readers.

Recommended, but not for first-time readers. Iain Banks has far simpler, easier and, dare I say it, better stuff.


Senior Member
Well, Quiss and Grout both want to get back to the war, wherever or whatever it may be. Quiss is
imprisoned because of drunk misdeeds on a palace balcony with a machine gun
, so maybe his war wasn't exactly that bad...

And Grout's war? Well, he doesn't know much about it, and it can hardly be worse than 1980s England, right? Especially when the fiendish Tormentors use their microwave gun on him!