Iain Banks first novel, The Wasp Factory, was published in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume 'Iain M. Banks'. He's also seen this book, "The Crow Road", adapted for television by the BBC in 1996. "Canal Dreams" is his fifth non sci-fi book and was first published in 1989.
The book's central character is Hisako Onoda, a world-famous cellist. As the book opens, Hisako is en-route from Japan to Europe, where she's due to perform in a series of concerts. However, as she's terrified of flying, she's making the journey by boat. Having travelled to Honolulu on the Gassam Maru, she then boarded the Nakodo - which was due to take her to Rotterdam via the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, due to `civil unrest' in the region - armed conflict between guerrilla fighters and government forces - the canal has been closed. Fro the moment, the Nakodo and two other ships are essentially trapped on Gatï¿½n Lake. Although they are hoping for the all-clear to continue their journey soon, the conflict I, unfortunately, coming closer.
There are elements of a thriller to "Canal Dreams", but the strength of the book lies in telling Hisako's story. She is a very well-developed character, though her past in only gradually given away - the book jumps backwards and forwards, looking at some of the key events of Hisako's life. It's a method that may take a little getting used to - especially if you haven't read anything by Banks before. However, for me, I felt it really added to the enjoyment of the book. Hisako's travelling companions aren't so well developed, and little is told of their lives, thoughts or motivations. However, as "Canal Dreams" doesn't set out to tell their stories this really isn't a problem - and I would absolutely recommend this book.