To me, the novel felt like a series of fascinating vignettes, almost completely self-contained little stories that with a serious amount of cleverness coalesce into a really fun story. The opening event reminded me of a dinner party in a mid-'70s Woody Allen movie - high praise, indeed.
Banks keeps hitting on some pretty heavy stuff in this vignette format - especially the veracity of experiences in a world where virtual reality is so ubiquitous and lifespans are virtually infinite.
~With one of these silvery things and an implant people here probably never have to actually remember the name of a single other person.
~I wonder if they ever forget their own. (p. 188)
Bam. And then it's gone, and we're back in what we can only term to be the "real world." Same thing with the "what is edible?" question near the beginning. I don't have an exact direction where I'm going with this; rather, I just really enjoy Banks' stylistic treatment of these great little existential questions that go to the core of one's being. Thank god Jack Burden wasn't around. (Eh, I lie. All the King's Men is one of my favorite books, but Idealism? Come on.)
Perhaps in the end, these vignettes end up being more Ingmar Bergman, one of Woody's idols, than Woody himself. There's just something in the whole thing that conjures images of playing chess with Death and delivering long monologues at right-angles to the camera.