CANAL DREAMS, by Iain Banks (Doubleday: $19; 208 pp.). Terrified of flying and thus confined to sea voyages, renowned cellist Hisako Onodo is journeying to her first engagement in Europe. Her tanker is interrupted as it reaches the Panama Canal when Latin American tensions flare into near war. Initially, she passes the time in a passionate affair with a French officer and in recalling key events in her life (discovering the cello; a nervous breakdown), but when the tanker is taken hostage by terrorists, Hisako discovers strengths hitherto hidden under a lifetime of passivity. Her memories are cloaked with anesthetized feelings, which unfortunately transfer to the narrative, though both are rattled by frequent jolts of violence. When Hisako emerges from her shell the action picks up, but possibly too late for her to appreciate her discovery that life calls for more than mere endurance.

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