Top critical review
Good, but definitely not Banks' best
on 11 April 2012
Whilst I have been a huge admirer of Iain M. Banks' books since I first bought a copy of Consider Phlebas back in 1988 whilst on a business trip to Sheffield, I didn't buy Inversions when it first came out. I suppose the main reason was that I didn't really fancy the blurb on the sleeve of the book, especially since my love of Banks' work stems mostly from a love of space opera. And Inversions does not fall into this particular pigeon hole - at all.
However, now that I have my new Kindle, I decided to check out Inversions, and whilst it is far from my favourite Banks work, it is certainly an intriguing novel in that it poses far more questions than it answers. The two protagonists just might be Culture agents planted in a pre-industrial civilisation, but then again they might not. The dagger carried by one of the characters might be a Culture knife missile, but then again it might not... and so on. As all these hints and clues as to the identity of the protagonists pile up, I found that I really needed to get to the end of the book to find the answers, and I was more than a little dismayed when none are offered. We even get an alternative ending for one of the story threads to muddy the water even more. This means that rather than be entertained, I felt I was being teased.
This means that the reader has to work with the writer and provide his or her own answers. In this sense Inversions works more like a poem than a novel in that the reader has to provide his or her own interpretation of the narrative.
Banks has readily admitted in the past that he actually does write many short stories, but most of them get incorporated into his novels. Inversions is an obvious case in point. It is clearly two novelettes that have been generously padded out to novella length and then intertwined to form a twin-viewpointed novel. I say "padded" advisedly because there are many scenes that simply do not push the plot forward or develop any of the characters. Having said that though, the character of Vossil (another remarkable Banks Babe in the strong, intelligent and ultra-feminine tradition of Perostek Balveda, Diziet Sma, Sharrow, Lededje Y'breq etc.) remains one of Banks' most sympathetic and three-dimensional characters to date. It is just frustrating that we never learn of her ultimate fate.
Shortcomings aside, Inversions is written in two very distinct styles and contains some of Banks' best and most polished prose. It's just a pity that it doesn't have the depth of plotting and the long list of sharply drawn characters that are contained in Banks' other works.