The protagonist is a sex offender. I'm just going to put that out there right away. And still, you feel both sympathetic and also repulsed by the main character, somewhat absurdly referred to as the Kid.
When The Professor comes looking for a cause to research, he, naturally, goes to the Causeway. There he finds Kid and they embark on a sort of friendly, disturbed, confused relationship of researcher to researchee. The Professor has his own problems that he brings to the partnership. And here is where the story took on dimension.
All characters are desperate. The Professor supposedly lives the normal, happy, married, moneyed, life, but it is anything but that. The Kid is supposed to be living with wastoids and people with no morals, and he himself should not have morals, hence his crime. But he does. And he cares after people, though says he doesn't, and he cares for pets. Initially he looks after his pet iguana, and later a lame dog and injured parrot. There's a lot in this particular aspect of the Kid's personality.
All the characters are filling casting roles, The Kid, The Professor, The Writer, The Wife. It actually got old because I felt I was reading some kind of (warped and modern) fable and not about real people. And it took many pages before anything interesting started happening.
Banks has you visit the minds of all his characters. Hopping from the Kid's mind to the cashier and back again. It is rather jarring and while I am certain this was Banks' intent -- for he is not an amateur writer -- but it still makes for cluttered reading.
This is an interesting novel. It would make a great book club read. That is, IF your book club actually talks about books. Banks touches upon a strata of society we all want to forget. We want to lock them up forever and frankly, we are essentially doing that. By placing certain rules against them once they have "paid their dues" in the justice system, we are not allowing them to become gainfully employed or find housing.
I don't know what I think. From an objective pre-law (oh, I'm so fancy) perspective, I want to question why convicted-then-paroled murderers can live next door to me without you knowing, but not a sex offender. However, the emotional part of me definitely does not want to be wandering my block with sex offenders leering out their windows.
Banks is an artist. There is a lot being said between the lines. I just wasn't incredibly invested to care to read them.