Although he does not appear until the end of the long prologue, Michael Banks is the novel’s focal character. A plain man married to a drab, nearly sexless wife, Banks has the satisfaction of having his fondest dream, that of owning a race horse, come true, only to see the dream transmogrify into his worst nightmare.
In order to live his dream, Banks has to act as front man for a gang of thugs led by Larry, a caricature of Freudian masculinity. From the beginning, then, it is clear that while this may be Banks’s dream, Banks is not in control of either the horse, a stallion named Rock Castle, or the sexual power it represents. Although he gets his horse and his night of sexual abandon with the “venereal” Sibylline Laval (among others), the gang has his wife, Margaret, whom they beat and rape. The assault brutally fulfills her sexual fantasies, equivalent to the twisted fulfillment of Banks’s dream.
Realizing what he has set in motion, Banks puts an end both to the fixed race and to the fantasy that has caught him in its web.
Parodying popular detective thrillers and more serious novels such as Graham Greene’s BRIGHTON ROCK, LIME TWIG is not a novel of plot and character (which Hawkes once called “the enemies of the novel”) but instead an imagistic fiction, as nightmarish and surreal as the world of Banks’s psychological imagination. Unlike Banks’s fantasy, however, the novel remains very much in its creator’s control. Hawkes, clearly understanding the consequences of both repression and release, writes a fiction that is at once innovative and free, yet aesthetically controlled. For Hawkes, it is art, not the repressed or the unbridled imagination, that redeems life.