Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - 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'. "The Bridge" was first published in 1986.
"The Bridge" opens at the scene of a car crash - well, more or less. Rather than a description of the wreckage and how bad the injuries are, we're treated to the thoughts running through the driver's own head. He's knows there's plenty of blood, and is specifically aware of the circle of pain on his chest - presumably from the impact with the steering wheel. However, there's also a touch of panic - especially with the sudden realisation that he doesn't know what his name is. It's probably lucky, then, that he didn't realise he was slipping into a coma...
Our hero comes round on `The Bridge', having been found floating in the water with no memory, no identification and a strange circular mark on his chest. (There were also six broken ribs and a few head injuries). He spent a couple of months in hospital, and was christened John Orr by the nurses who treated him - a name he still uses, since he still can't remember his real name.
The Bridge itself is huge - it's at least fifteen hundred feet high and disappears over the horizon in both directions. About six or seven thousand live in each section, and there's probably room for more. In each section of the Bridge, there may be up to a dozen languages in use - most people speak the language specific to their own profession, as well as the Bridge's official, ceremonial language. Unfortunately, it seems that the Bridge's official language is the only one Orr can speak. For some time, Orr had tried to find out something about the Bridge - exactly where it's located, how old it is, something about the places that lie at its ends. (It's said that `The City' is at one end and `The Kingdom' is at the other - although nobody appears to have been in either place. The answers to some of his questions, he suspects, would be found in the library. Naturally, he's bewildered that the section he lives in has somehow managed to lose theirs).
About eight months have passed since Orr's arrival, and his treatment is continuing as an out-patient. He is one of Doctor Joyce's star patients - Joyce specialises in the analysis of dreams and hopes to learn, through these, something about our hero's past life. However, for the bulk of his treatment, the dreams he has been telling Joyce about have been a work of fiction - since the dreams he had been having were only partially remembered and scarcely worth the analysis. (Nevertheless, when Orr is eventually able to remember his `real' dreams in detail, he decides to carry on telling the doctor about his fake dreams).
As yet, there's been no need for Orr to provide for himself : he's expenses are easily covered with his Hospital Out-Patients Living Allowance, and he has also been provided with a luxurious apartment. Mr Brooke, an Engineer and occasional drinking buddy, is probably the closest thing he has to a friend. (Engineers are apparently one of the Bridge's highest ranking castes, so he's a very influential drinking buddy, too). It's through Brooke that he meets Abberlaine Arrol, the daughter of the Bridge's Chief Engineer. (Orr is summoned one night to Dissy Pitton's - Brooke and his cronies want to visit the local brothel, but they obviously need to ditch Abberlaine. Orr was chosen to look after her, while Brooke visited the ladies of negotiable affection). Abberlaine, in time, proves a useful ally.
It's Orr himself who tells most of the story, recalling the details of his life on the Bridge and his dreams - "I walk on, and catch the stationary rickshaw up". We're also told, in time, something of his `real' life. However, since these parts are told about him, rather than by him - "He came to stay in Sciennes Road, just liking the name, not knowing the place"- it doesn't appear his memories are returning. Some of the dream sequences can be fairly amusing - many of them feature a sword-wielding, barbarian hero who speaks with a very broad Scottish accent. I'd have preferred a little less time spent dreaming and a bit more time investigating the Bridge itself, admittedly - though it's still a very good book overall.