After suffering a horrific car accident, the novel's nameless, Scottish protagonist finds himself on the `Bridge', an industrial super-complex his mind has conceived for him to inhabit whilst he is unconscious. The man's identity is now split three-fold, as is the narrative structure of the book. Flashbacks to his pre-coma life represent his Freudian `ego', his surface personality that exists in the "real-world". His dreaming self living on the `Bridge' is his `super-ego' and a third barbarian like character that only desires sex and food is the `id'. Only when these three personifications of the psyche reunite will the book's hero be whole again. In essence this book presents a very traditional tale of self-discovery which has been stripped down to its most bare psychological form.
Everything in this novel, in reflection of Freud's tripartite mental structure, comes in threes; there are three narrators, three versions of the same man, and three sections to the book. Like Freud's psyche though, each of these `threes' combine to form a larger, more complete whole. The story and imagery are immensely surreal, from technological mega-structures to images of men walking forever in search of siren-like representations of female sexuality.
Yet beneath all of these layers of metaphor and psychology Banks also attempts to give a picture of modern-day Scotland and its politics. This is where, in my opinion, Banks attempts too much; his great artistry and surreal narrative is often at odds with the novel's ostensible state-of-the-nation agenda. However, the strength of the book's characterisation and its highly original setting more than make up for this minor flaw. Ultimately I found this to be a well-written and innovative work that lifts the classic coming-of-age yarn into a post-modern literary framework. A mind-bending yet moving novel.