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Canal Dreams Paperback – 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Abacus (2006)
  • ISBN-10: 034910171X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349101712
  • ASIN: B003X80FAQ
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,729,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sally Ann Melia on July 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I have read all of Iain Banks Books, and unusually perhaps this one I have always enjoyed.

Canal Dreams tells the story of Hisako Onoda a Japanese Cello super star prodigy who when invited to play the major capitals of Europe refuses to fly, and instead chooses to take a ship from Japan. She travels as a passenger aboard across the Pacific, through the Panama canal then to the Atlantic and Europe. In the early chapters there is some mention of guerilla in Costa Rica, but this in no way prepares us for what comes next.

As she enters Panama the country is already descending into war, but caught in her world of music and plans for Europe Hisako is barely aware of this, and sleepwalks onwards despite entreaties to leave the ship and take the plane. So Hisako is still on board when the oil tanker Nakado when trapped with two other ships in the Panama Canal, becomes the subject of an attack.

I won't say more about the story, just to say this is the opening, and the tale itself is one of human frailties vis human cruelties. the female character Hisako, as with all of Iain Banks female protagonist is carefully drawn and immediately compelling. the action is as cruel and relentless as any terrorist film.

With flashbacks to Hisoka's youth in Japan and a detailed knowledge of the engineering and layout of a super tanker, this book offers both exotic locals and interesting technological details.

There is an interesting thought running through this book as well. This fictional conflict in Panama is drawn as one of many global mini-flashbacks, and you get the feeling that while the protagonists suffer and die, the rest of the world is watching football or tennis. In essence the ROW lives on in blissful wilful ignorance.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on August 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Banks' first novel, The Wasp Factory, was a surprise within a surprise--a well-written horror novel that was also a well-written "mainstream" novel. Since then, Banks has continued to surprise mainstream readers with surrealistic novels like Walking on Glass and The Bridge, as well as surprising science fiction readers with intelligent space opera like Consider Phelbas and The Player of Games (Banks' space opera compares favorably with Hyperion by Dan Simmons).
In Canal Dreams, Banks revisits the type of realistic horror found in The Wasp Factory. Hisako Onada is a Japanese cellist who refuses to fly, yet wishes to tour Europe. Her agent books her passage on a Japanese freighter, and she gets caught up in a revolution when her ship becomes trapped in the Panama Canal. That's one part of the story. Another story line explores Hisako's background, from the sacrifices that her mother makes early on as she makes it clear that she wishes to play the cello, through the very rigorous Japanese education process, to joining a major Japanese orchestra. The background serves as an important counterpoint to the other storyline, explaining that her refusal to fly is based on a true phobia. Banks is pointing out that phobias are irrational fears, that have no bearing on the bravery or bearing of the person. When the realtime storyline turns wicked, one isn't surprised at Hisako's actions or her ability to weather hardship.
Banks' horror is like Stephen King's Firestarter without the pyrokinetic, or Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs without the psychopaths. Canal Dreams is a novel about the kind of horror seen all too frequently in the news, and occurs even more frequently in the real world. And that is true horror.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By B. Caesar on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Although this is one of his weakest works, it's still Banks. And he really is a good writer.
Notably, there's plenty of reference in the novel to Japan. From my experience of having lived in Japan for some time, learning the language, culture and way of thinking, I notice that sometimes Banks is a little Orientalist in his references to Japanese culture. There are plenty of exotic cultural and by-the-numbers historical references to, for example sumo, samurai, the atomic bombings, student riots of the 60s and some textbook Japanese psychology. However, this seems to me to be like a garnish added to make it more believable to people who know little about Japan. Like another reviewer pointed out, it's like Banks wants to show his knowledge to the reader, but the effect is that the work has been written by Banks without having in-depth experience of the country and people and results in a gentle stereotyping.
However, Banks is an intelligent, reflective and enjoyable writer and I did enjoy the book. It's true that some of the characterisations are rather undeveloped but that doesn't necessarily make it a bad book. In particular, the unusual pacing is such that the narrative lulls for a while, relaxing, and then suddenly surges to an explosive but emotionally-stunted conclusion.
Banks is a writer that doesn't seem to tread old ground, creating surprising and thought-provoking fiction. I reckon that for those who like Banks work, it'll be 50-50 for whether you enjoy this or not, but I do recommend you try it.
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By David Brookes on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Iain Banks' mainstream work usually hinges on some aspect of unreality - psychosis, pseudo-history, the subconscious - and this one apparently centres on dreams, hense the title. You can read about the story and main character elsewhere, but nobody seems to have touched upon the apparent irrelevancy of the dreams, other than to highten the tension that Banks strives (and ultimately fails) to set up during this Panama-based tale of hostage situation. Most writers agree that dream sequences add little to literature, and this is the case with "Canal Dreams"; they seem to be present only to fill out this otherwise very short novel. They reveal nothing about the character, little about her present state of mind and don't advance the story by even a fraction.

The character development is unusually poor for Banks, who in every other novel seems to perform marvelously in this respect. The main character begins to be defined by her directionless childhood and the beginning of her adult like through her skills as a cellist. Then the last 100 pages suddenly reveal extreme and unlikely tragedies in her personal life, one after the other, that are almost totally unseeded during the early chapters of the novel.

It seems that as Banks' thriller turns into a slightly ridiculous action novel, he feels he has to justify his character's extreme actions by constructing a more and more sympathetic history for her. He fails in this respect too - you wonder if her implausible past is another of her dreams. But no. As if the trials during her period of capture by what at first appear to be Panamanian terrorists weren't enough.

The remaining characters are quite poorly drawn, and it hurts me to say it.
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