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I first discovered the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks as a teenager, when I watched a theatre performance of the story. I can only vaguely remember the production but must have been impressed as I immediately went out and purchased a copy of the book and several other novels by Iain Banks. The Wasp Factory was actually Iain Banks debut novel and caused quite a lot of controversy when it was first published. I can understand why that would be the case as the book features a teenage boy openly talking about the ways in which he has disposed of a number of family members throughout his childhood. This is certainly a novel with a pretty unique style of black humour. It is a short read though and far shorter than Banks subsequent novels which tend to be great tomes. I preferred this short and snappy format and was able to lose myself in the bizarre world inhabited by the strange and twisted mind of Eric and his dysfunctional family. Despite the story focusing on murder and madness (thanks to the older brother who has managed to escape from a hospital due to his mental health breakdown) it is not at all depressing or gruesome. There is something pretty ingenious about the methods used by Eric and there is some logic behind his decisions. The only really unpleasant section was when the older brother was caring for children and discovered why one of the children was no longer talking. That is one section to read with a shudder. Having had a number of years between re-reading, I had completely forgotten about a slightly macabre and bizarre twist that occurs at the end, making this a really provocative and unique novel. This book has been listed on Amazon as one of the 100 books to read in a lifetime and deservedly so as it certainly stands its own.
This is one of those books I just had to share with friends. Not just because it was captivating, but because it also had a style that I'd never read before.
I was told about it by a friend when I wasn't reading much. The odd book here and there. But once I started reading this I soon learnt that reading wasn't just something boring you do at school.
In the Wasp Factory you see the world from a young character that can be deemed as slightly twisted. But things aren't all that they seem and Ian Bainks bring to life a character that most people wouldn't even dream of.
The main character, Frank, lives with his father in a remote scottish village. His mother abandoned them and the older brother is in a psychiatric hospital. To release the stress of his life, Frank turns to weird past times, such as sticking animals heads on sticks, until he finds out that his brother escaped.
The story unveils Franks past and the more you read, the more you find out about how long his actions have been taking place. His brother escaping causes a series of events that change Frank, but is it for the better?
This isn't something you can read lightly, it's dark side will catch unaware and you'll find the gothic style more than scary a times. But where the book is dark and weird, you learn to love it, and almost worry yourself for doing so.
After a childhood fraught with abnormality, his lack of identity, the unfortunate incident with Old Saul, Eric, the separate and inventive murders of Paul, Esmeralda and Blythe, Frank (16) remains the sane one - that he is utterly convinced. Living with his father, posing as his uncle, Frank lives a wholly strange and self-expressive lifestyle unlike any other...
Frank spends his days managing and maintaining a deep shamanistic ritual which dominates his life. Sacrifice poles are positioned around the small Island on the Scottish coast where he lives, decorated with the bones of slain creatures and the remains of captured insects. All around the island are places of great importance, areas where significant things have happened - deaths and attacks. 'The Skull Grounds', the 'Bunker' where he used to play, all now linked into the system that is his life. Perhaps the most important entity he owns though, is something buried in mystery (and misery) which the reader knows little of for the majority of the book. It's the 'Factory', a seemingly mechanical thing locked in the loft (away from fathers influence) which can be tinkered with, and which has levers and numbers.
Frank has one friend, Jamie, and one (remaining) brother, Eric. The former a friendly dwarf of about the same age as he (who he enjoys being normal with - drinking, watching bands in the local towns pubs), and the latter a deranged mad-man of a few years senior, someone who takes centre stage in Frank's life, someone he admires and fears, and someone who is coming closer and closer to home all the while. Eric's past is explained in full quite far into the book (and it goes far deeper than you might have thought), but the general background to his character is one filled with burning dogs, eating maggots, and taking drugs - he is a 'loony', unstable, late teen who is supposed to be in a mental hospital.
The three murders which Frank commits all happen prior to the books setting, and all before the fictional character reaches his 10th birthday. Paul, his younger brother, he kills because he feels the child will grow to become dangerous as a adult. This, a theory linked into Franks 'religion' and the tellings of the Factory. Cousin Blythe is killed because of what he did to Franks pet rabbits one summer when he and his parents were visiting the island. Esmeralda, another cousin of Frank's, was killed too, but after the final death, Frank gave up on the idea of killing, effectively retiring from it (at age 10!). All three die in incredibly strange, intellectually thought-out ways which you can tell Banks had fun creating - I won't spoil anything here (but see my title for a hint of one). The deaths are significant, they tie into the story well and help to form some of the blue-print for his unusual ways!
The Wasp Factory is a first person horror which resides its reader to the mind of Frank, and gradually lets you into his ritualistic present, and saddened, disturbing past. As you learn of the 16-year old and all of his unorthodox ways, you have to almost stop yourself from latching onto his logic, residing to his reasoning. He is so convincing, the way he thinks so realistic, that you don't (a lot of the time) question his sanity, you go along with it. It is only remembrance of the brutal, personal, 'necessary' deaths, and (to a lesser extent) the nonsensical, time consuming traditions he has accumulated, that you stop yourself from falling for his subtle charm.
I really enjoyed Iain Banks' first work. I have now read four of his Sci-Fi books, and this is first of his 'M'-less stuff I've read. I have to say, it is very different, but it is also very good. Though short and simple, the plot keeps the pages turning, and elements of dark humour mixed with excellent dialogue make the story even more appealing. The ending is exceptional, and the book deserves to be as highly thought of as it is. A highly recommendable read!
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Absolutely vile!! Read about 3 chapters now and on the verge of giving up. Parts so far have made me feel sick. Not a comfortable read.One of those books that should have a warning on it: "WARNING! STRONG STOMACH AND BUCKET NEEDED!!"Revolting!!Doesnt even deserve a single star in my point of view.It surprises me that so many people seem to like it!Oh well - each to his own!
This novel gets off to an explosive start - literally. A few pages in, Frank, the just sixteen year old protagonist of this tale, plants some home-made bombs in rabbit warrens and explodes them. Shortly after this, he uses a home-made flame-thrower device on the stunned and injured rabbits. It's a shocking beginning - and I almost did not get past it; the animal cruelty/gore was significant. It sounds strange but I had to remind myself that this was fiction - but I felt troubled by the author's (warped) imagination. I did persevere with the (gothic) horror and quite soon became gripped!
'The Wasp Factory' is the first novel of Iain Banks (1984). In 1993, Banks was aknowledged as being one of the best of young British writers and wrote a number one bestseller, 'Crow Rd' in 1996 which was dramatised. He lives in Fife in Scotland - which is significant as he sets 'The Wasp Factory' in a remote area of Scotland.
Frank lives in a remote spot with his O.C.D. 'eccentric' father who conducts accurate measuring of all household items in imperial measurements only. They get news that Frank's older brother, Eric, has just escaped from the mental institution that he usually resides in; they know immediately he is on his way and destructive havoc will ensue. Other characters include a crabby housekeeper and a dwarf drinking-buddy of Frank's. The mother figure of this household is noticeably absent. Frank's hippy-type father has never registered the birth of his son so Frank lives a life of semi-invisibility often passing as his father's nephew. Frank has murdered three children some years ago - but believes it is all in the past. The novel follows Frank as he waits for the reappearance of his brother and takes a number of random telephone conversations from him on the way.
There is an interesting twist to the end of the tale and even writing this review, I need to make sure the integrity of the ending is preserved by not divulging too much by being technically correct. If this is confusing, you'll have to read it to see what I mean!
The book is divided into 11 chapters and each one seems to explain some aspect of his life -for example, the chapter called 'The Bomb Circle' is a chapter that fully describes how he killed one of his victims. Just what is the 'wasp factory'? This too has a chapter which describes the idea more fully. However, this novel is also full of little bits of information that the reader collects on the way and these 'hints' help you to build up a clearer (and fascinating) picture of the motivation of Frank and the other characters.
I really enjoy a novel that drops hints because I appreciate a pro-active reading experience where you have 'the penny drops' moments and this book has them in just the right amount. Some of these kind of novels can be a little confusing if the hints are too obscure or too many - but 'The Wasp Factory' seems to hit the right note.
Frank, despite his cruel side, is quite enigmatic. The novel is written in the 1st person (Frank's narrative) so the reader gets to know him quite well being privy to his secrets and thoughts. He is a self confessed killer - but seems to be both smart and sensible. He has been home schooled by this father and is a competent bomb builder. Strangely enough, he seems to quite like his victims; his motivation to kill them clearly does not come from hate and the reader is left wondering about a seeming lack of empathy.
Frank's unkempt father (estimated age about 45) is most often seen cooking (usually) vegetarian dishes in the kitchen. When he is not doing this, he is drinking whiskey in excess or ferreting about in his locked study (which Frank tries to get into but cannot). "What height is this table?" he asks Frank. This is a routine that has been going on for Frank's lifetime. There are little stickers on all household items with the measurement of each part on. Frank knows it is weird behaviour. The relationship between Frank and his dad is perfunctory; there are few feelings discussed and both seem to live relatively separate lives - each with their own significant secrets.
Eric's character is mostly learned from his wild 'phone conversations with Frank. These are comic in their nature and usually end with the harsh abuse of a public telephone receiver - or of Frank hearing fragments of abuse to a captured pet dog. Eric is well known for his habit of setting fire to dogs and Frank warns him constantly to leave the dogs alone. This seems quite strange - bearing in mind that Frank has a history of several murders.
The theme of family ties is a huge one in this novel. Frank and his family are dysfunctional to the extreme; riddled with warped, destructive and secretive behaviours and yet normal behaviours are interspersed - Frank's dad makes tea, they talk about other people, they listen in to each other's 'phone conversations; they are deeply connected. Even when Eric is expected to return home from the asylum, Frank looks forward to seeing him despite knowing it will be terrible. There is a love there - the warts and all kind.
Death is another major theme in the novel. Frank is obsessed with it; it is like a hobby for him. It is something to do in the remote loneliness of his invisible life. Rituals are created with the deaths and the display of small creatures (heads on poles, skulls with candles in) - and of course, there are the human murders. The question is ultimately posed - why would someone do these sort of things? I think the novel answers this question quite well at the end.
'Secrets' is a huge theme. All of the major characters have significant secrets (rituals, places, emotions). Once again, the idea of motivation is questioned. Those who have secrets clearly have (often painful) reasons for keeping them. In the context of these particular characters, the motivations are eventually exposed in a satisfying manner.
Misogyny is a thread that runs through the tale of this all male household. Frank expresses some fairly offensive and woman-hating opinions. Once again, quite unpalatable to the reader - but dealt with by Banks quite interestingly.
I felt horrified as I began to read this book. However, the book is described as a 'gothic horror 'story - so I suppose I should not have been surprised. In some ways, the book fits quite neatly with my own perspective on human life - that the veneer of life has the appearance of 'normality' but much of human life relies on industrialised horror and destruction (especially with the non-stop animal slaughter/ environmental devastation that human life seems to completely rely upon). Ultimately, 'damage' is the main theme of this novel and the karma that exists in negative feedback.
Another comment I need to make is about the twist at the end of the story. I was left wondering about the feasibility of such a thing - but I am a woman and the author was male. Our perspective could be different. Read the book and think on this for yourself!
Interspersed between the horrors of the story was a comic thread. There is something about the way that Frank describes terrible things with a lightness of tone that is slightly amusing. This, of course, makes you question the character's empathy (quite a few 16 year olds seem to lack empathy anyway) - but it shows a skilled hand in the forming of such a character and it makes a satisfying read.
Would I recommend this novel? Yes - but I think it should never be made into a film as I feel it has the power to provoke copycat activities of cruelty and destruction (and there's enough of those in the world already).
Interestingly, this novel is sometimes studied for A level English. Apparently (and unsurprisingly), teenage boys have huge levels of engagement with the story - and probably feel pulled up quite sharply by the significant end!
Since re-discovering the 43 Things family of websites, I began to keep track of the books I was reading, which lately is a lot, and work off a couple of reading lists for inspiration of what to read next. The Wasp Factory kept popping up time and time again so I decided to give it a shot so I would be able to check it off once and for all.
After downloading it onto my Reader, I began the story and soon began to realise that I wasn't enjoying it as much as I'd hoped. I usually read two or three books at once, and alternate fairly evenly, however I was always putting off getting back into this, and as such for a relatively short book (about 250 pages) took me a lot longer than average.
The book is about a rather disturbed youth, Frank, who lives on a remote Scots island with his "father" (long story) and has accidentally-on-purpose disposed of three young members of his family. But, as he likes to point out in this first-person narrative, that was a long time ago and he's past that now.
That doesn't mean he has normal hobbies, though. Not unless you consider torturing wasps and stocking up on hamsters and guinea pigs to put into his catapult. Frank doesn't go to school and, waiting on news of his lunatic brother who has escaped from an institution, has a lot of time to kill, if you'll pardon the pun, and spends it doing some pretty bizarre stuff.
I think that's the first reason I got a bit bored. The description can be quite lengthy at times, and my eyes started to glaze over a bit as I heard play-for-play about how he built a dam in the sand or went hunting for rabbits. And, once you've got past these passages onto something a bit more exciting, you can be pretty sure that he will be up to his old tricks again soon.
Another thing that really irritated me and spoiled my enjoyment a bit was the fact that certain things are withheld for a really long time, though often referred to. Even the factory of the title is not fully explained until the latter stages of the book, although we are treated to descriptions of some of his other torture methods. Nice. I'm not sure whether or not this is intended to keep the reader hooked, but in my case at least it didn't, just slightly frustrated but not interested enough to be too bothered.
Eventually, towards the end of the book, the pace picked up and the book became more enjoyable, although not without the odd snoozefest when he makes yet another bleeding dam. In the last chapter I was absolutely shocked, and felt it compensated somewhat for the rest of the book, but was still completely bizarre and somehow didn't satisfy me. You know when you read a book and the ending is completely unexpected and you say "Wow, I'd never have thought of that, great ending"? Well, this was the opposite for me: "Wow, I'd never have thought of that, because it's stupid".
On the positive, I did enjoy the few odd lighter moments of the book, and thought the characters were well-written. I also thought the deaths at the hands of Frank were extremely creative, although the first one I think not so plausible (I won't share this in case you plan on reading the book).
Well, despite rave reviews I've read of this book, I am relieved to have checked it off my list never to be read again. Not my thing I'm afraid.
This book was controversial in it's time, and the graphic depiction of a family of psychotics has some disturbing elements. When you realise towards the end the price the main character has paid for his fathers mistreatment, the evil he has committed makes a kind of awful sense.
To say that the Wasp Factory's humour is dark is an understatement, but this is typical Iain Banks territory and was a sign of things to come.
One thing Banks has excelled at to my mind is exploring the darker more cynical edges of human nature, and here he demonstrates this talent.
The twist at the end is not only surprising but also morbidly fascinating, and for the intelligent reader, the underlying message is worth the gruelling trek through the earlier chapters.
However if you have a sensitive disposition, take care. Some of this is not for the faint-hearted. A very interesting work.
It shouldn't feel right to sympathise with someone who's killed three people (that's not a spoiler, it's on the back of the book) but the neutral voice which Iain Banks gives to his main character makes it nigh on impossible not to connect with Frank on some level, making his actions towards both people and wasps seem strangely detached from the articulate and rational teenager the reader gets to know over 184 pages, particularly in comparison with Eric's reactions throughout the novel. Nonetheless, this dark presence of impending doom - both in the form of Eric and in the possibility of Frank's previous actions being found out - constantly stalks both protagonist and reader as the prose slowly sinks its hooks into you.
Whilst it's difficult to review The Wasp Factory without talking about its graphic violence, to focus only on this aspect would overshadow what would be a masterpiece by any writer, making the fact that this is Banks' debut nothing short of phenomenal. The slow torturous build up to Eric's return is completely and utterly gripping as he cuts in and out of the narrative, jolting the reader back when one of his ominous telephone calls cuts through Frank's peaceful if slightly twisted existence. It is this sense of foreboding which runs through the novel, and constantly encapsulates its central theme of fate - something which Frank has allowed others to control for him, on a subconscious level, all his life, despite his own ideas to the contrary. The wasps of the titular factory are not the predictors Frank views them as, but rather as the creators of their own destiny. It is only when the shocking final twist is revealed that one truly sees the book for what it is: a novel of how the positive comes from the negative in life, and how we are all masters of our own destiny and must rail against being controlled by others.
Seventeen year old Frank is a killer. He kills birds, mice and other small animals. Fortunately, he doesn't kill people any more - it was just a passing phase, when he killed Blythe, Paul and Esmeralda (not all at once, mind you). Frank's brother Eric is also deeply unhinged, with a penchant for burning dogs, and his father isn't entirely playing with a full deck either.
The Wasp Factory is a strange book. The plot, such as it is, follows Frank on his isolated Scottish Island as he prepares for the imminent arrival of his half-brother Eric, who has escaped from a secure mental institution. However, that's not really the main point of this rather short novel (I read it in around a day). The book is narrated by Frank, who is a deeply unreliable narrator. Indeed, every 'fact' we learn should be treated with suspicion, since everyone has reason to either lie, deceive or simply misreport events, since every event is filtered first through the character the event has happened to, and then through Frank.
Because the book is written in the first person always in Frank's voice, the language is at times rough (I don't mean swearing, though there is a bit of that) - it is, after all, the voice of an adolescent, and a disturbed one at that. "I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me" - so reads the first paragraph of the novel. We do learn eventually who his brother is, what he is escaping from and what the Factory is (and indeed many other disturbing and bizarre 'facts'), but we are told in snippets as the book unfolds - events and things are referred to that are eventually explained (sort of), but not immediately. This makes this a book that you turn back to - I re-read pages once the significance of a passing comment becomes clear.
Although there isn't exactly a linear plot per se, this is nevertheless a page turner. The novel is split into 12 named chapters, each chapter name carrying with it significance. Every character in it, from Frank (who, amongst other things, is clearly OCD), to Eric and indeed to Dad is disturbed, disturbing, and bearing deep secrets. However, because of the unreliability of the narrator, you can never be certain that the truth is being told, that the secrets are really being revealed. Even at the end (which is a bit apocalyptic, and a shocker - do not, whatever you do, skip to the last page before finishing the book), we cannot be certain that the conclusions Frank draws are based on truth, fiction, misunderstanding, a deeper understanding or a combination of all of the above.
This is a dark novel. Whilst it's an easy read in that the language is reasonably simple, and the narrative unfolds in an understandable (if slightly weird) way, it is certainly thought provoking and deeply disturbing (a word I'm using a lot in this review). The book was lent to me - the first thing I did when I finished was to call the lender and discuss the book in general, and the ending in particular.
The Wasp Factory took but a day to read, but will be in my thoughts for a far, far longer time. It's not a cheery or soul lifting book, but it is intelligent and deep. Recommended.
"I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through".
This book is written to be a shocker, it unabashedly describes every mundane event in minute detail, sometimes rendering it dull, and sometimes just plain disgusting. The story is of Frank, a 16 year old, with strange and unusual views of death and murder. We try, as readers, to understand his odd sentiments, but struggle to achieve the mindset necessary to sympathize with him; Frank makes murder sound so uncomplicated, and although he acts in an unscrupulous manner, there is a sense of amorality rather than immorality. His scheming, conniving way of never raising suspicion challenges our views of innocence and childhood.
The shocking actions of this young boy, never failed to grip me with shock and abhorrence, you hate this boy, but you also know he doesn't understand why it is wrong to murder.
Although a bit slow going at times, The Wasp Factory is clearly an excellent book, very well written, full of unexpected twists and turns, filled with sexism and graphic descriptions, it is a book you wont likely forget, and one you will be compelled to tell others about
If you like a fast moving, gripping page turner, this is not for you, if you like a deeply disturbing and slow building but highly eventful thriller, then read The Wasp Factory - you wont be disappointed.
I picked up this book at Waterstones after I saw it was in it's 3-2 offer.
Frank is a 17 year old boy who lives a somewhat strange existance. Living on a island in Scotland with his single aging father and spending his days on the island chasing rabits and living the life of a "soldier" of the Wasp Factory (albeit all in his head). His mental brother has escaped from the mental hospital. The police in the village are on high alert especially as his brother had been put in the hospital because he had been going round the village torching dogs and forcing children eat maggots. The story explores the relationship of Frank with his surroundings - the island, his father and his brother. We are also told Frank has already killed three people.
I think you should always judge a book by its cover - it's the first thing a reader sees! I had absolutely no idea what the book was about and from the cover (I bought the 25th anniversary edition which has a grey cover of a faded photograph of what looks like grass and a kite in the distance), it looked menacing and dark. It is also accompanied by a quote from the Financial Times (ooh very posh - and not the Daily Star so literary should be a good read!) saying it is a "gothic horror". Great! I no had high expectations of it being horrific.
The 25th edition contains a new preface by Iain Banks. A great 3 pages of where Banks got his inspiration from - not necessarily essential read nor is it enough to make me buy the book on that alone.
The story starts off very slowly. Maybe because I'm a girl and I don't understand what little boys get up to but I found the everyday experiences of Frank on the island a bit tiresome. However, the way it is told is fascinating - Banks has managed to make mundane activities as chasing and shooting at rabbits a draw to the reader. His use of words attracts the reader and paints a very clear painting of the situation. For this, it is an easy read and it is easy to appreciate what Banks is trying to achieve. Banks does shock the reader - I mean shock, not necessarily in the sense of gore and blood but the sheer blantness of his story telling. For example, everyone knows when you go for a poo you wipe your bum with tissue but having it written in front of you makes it somehow very uncomfortable read (especially when you're on the tube on a Monday morning - bizarre!). The story continues in that way with the occassional shock as it weaves between the mundane every day activities, to the flashbacks (when you learn how Frank killed the three people he mentions at the beginning) and to the other "side" story of Eric, Frank's brother.
In conclusion this is an excellent read - very academic and I'm sure it can be analysed to death in terms of Banks' writing skill and storytelling. Definitely classed as a horror story but not in Stephen King sense - just very strange and bizarre.
I won a copy of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks on a local radio station recently, I remembered the book caused a bit of a furore when it was first published in the 80's but it's not the kind of book that would have ever appealed to me so the controversy went in one ear and out of the other.
I was drawn in by the words 'Gothic Horror' which is emblazoned on the front cover and while I found the novel quite difficult to get into at first I quickly became enthralled and couldn't devour the words quickly enough! It's hard to tell you much about the story as this is a book of secrets and the paced way in which these secrets are revealed to the reader makes the novel an extremely intense read.
Frank is a 17 year old boy living with his father in a rural Scottish community. He narrates the entire novel and it's obvious from the opening paragraphs that he is a deeply disturbed young man, he admits murdering three children when he was just a child himself. The reasons and aftermath are given for these killings at various points through the book and reading them gave me a cold feeling as the author has written these terrible acts with a child's voice, this is chilling and made all the more so by the matter of fact attitude Frank had towards his appalling crimes.
Part of the reason Frank has such an awful personality is down to a terrible childhood accident, the accident was alluded to right from the start of the book and I must admit I had vaguely guessed the injuries he suffered to some extent but the descriptive scenes were very harrowing nonetheless.
Frank has built himself a life with his father on a scrap of land they own just outside of town, he rarely leaves the 'island' and spends his time building totem poles from real dried animal heads (of course, he kills the animals himself in terrible sadistic ways) and illicitly communicating over the telephone with his brother, Eric, who has recently escaped from a mental institution where he was being detained for setting fire to dogs.
Do those three paragraphs seem strange enough? Dark, creepy, cold enough? Well, interweave Franks wasp factory into the story and the level of revulsion you feel for the boy cranks up a notch. Considering the book was named for the Factory it doesn't get very much print space but the undercurrent and threat of this clever but fatal device of Frank's own creation is clear throughout the story.
The novel is very well written, it's intentionally sloppy in places but the plot and characters are razor sharp. I knew the author was steering me towards certain emotions in the story, which isn't always a good thing, but this was done in a way that I felt more drawn into the story than ever and any hatred or the very few moments that I smiled while reading was from the heart as I felt I knew Frank and his family personally. It's strange, I can't think of a person I'd rather hate but as the story wore on I began to feel the stirrings of sympathy for Frank and felt his pain as he slowly pieced together his shocking family secrets.
The novel is extremely dark and there are vivid visuals of animal cruelty which I found hard to digest at times. They are always, however, integral to the story, as upsetting to read as they may be. In The Wasp Factory you are glimpsing the mind of someone with a savage mental illness, Frank is a clever and sly young man but his brain is horrifically disturbed and this comes across well in the words of Iain Banks. I felt I read it in a very detached manner, I couldn't seem to delve too deeply into some parts of the plot as I felt strangely unclean after particular sections of Franks inner ruminations.
It's quite a short novel by today's standards, I read it in three or four sittings and the fact that it's so fast paced and bizarre made the story fly along. I wished it was longer when I was within 20 pages of the ending, which incidentally was a solid finale which tied up most loose ends (if such a novel can ever be neatly wrapped up!) and left the reader with a hunger to find out what happens in an unwritten sequel.
Do I recommend it? Well, yes and no. I thoroughly enjoyed it in a strange sort of way, I'm not easily offended and this book didn't offend me. It's certainly a heavier subject matter than the historical novels and crime fiction I usually read but there was something terribly interesting and voyeuristic about The Wasp Factory. It had me hooked almost from the start, but I can quite understand why some people would choose not to read it due to the intense hatred and revulsion you may feel towards Frank and his vile brother.
If you want to read it you can buy a copy from Amazon for £3.99, which is excellent value for such a gripping and intense look into the mind of a deranged murderer.
The Wasp Factory is Iain Banks debut novel. The story opens pretty graphically with Frank topping up his sacrifice poles, these contain the bodies and skulls of animals he has previous killed. These sacrifice poles are used to protect the territory that Frank and his father live on; a small island.
We hear early on about Frank's older brother Eric who has escaped from a mental home and is on his way home, much to his father's disapproval. Throughout the book Frank receives regular phone calls from Eric informing him of his whereabouts, he tries to pretend that he is talking to someone else on the phone to keep the news away from his father. Frank and his brother are pretty widely feared in his village, the family tend to stay on their island apart from a few drunken evenings in the pub.
Most of Frank's violence is inflicted on animals; a section early on in the book graphically describes his hunting down and torturing of rabbits. However we later learn that in his short life he has killed 3 members of his family which he goes on to explain in further detail throughout the book.
So by now you are probably thinking what on earth is the point in reading this book full of gratuitous violence and brutality... well ... its actually a very good read. Banks cleverly keeps the reader engrossed by including the background story of Frank's Brother Eric returning at any moment. Although the book contains a lot of violence and gore you want to keep reading more to find out what exactly the Wasp Factory is (I wont spoil it here), what exactly turned Frank's brother insane and what will happen when he finally reaches home.
The end of the book is pretty disappointing after reading the pretty horrific accounts of Frank's 3 victims and the gratuitous violence throughout the eventual arrival of his brother is neither satisfying nor entertaining it was a big let down for me. The very end of the book contains a twist based on a re-occurring story which is mentioned throughout the book; personally I didn't think that the final twist was necessary and not at all relevant to the rest of the book.
So to summarise I would recommend reading this book it is certainly controversial, Banks goes so far as to publish both positive and negative reviews in the book. If your stomach is easily churned then stay clear there are graphic accounts of violence towards animals and humans. Although I myself am not a horror fan it is an amazing work of fiction I have never read anything quite like it.
'If you are squeamish or easily frightened, then leave the wasp Factory severly alone... Read if you dare,' said the Daily Express.
The book follows the extraordinary and private world of Frank, providing an insight into those excluded from society, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and a mind so brutal it will horrify you. With vivid charectors and blood thirsty antics this book is not for the faint hearted, however does leave you wanting more and so will be a book that you wont be able to put down.
This book gives the reader an insight into a person far detached from what we associate with normality. If it was not for the excellent writing techniques in which Iain Banks uses, I would have given up on this book in digust. The message that this book teaches us, if any, is that revenge may not always be justified andd will not fullfil whatever your missing.
Sick. Disturbing. Disgusting. Just glancing through some of the other reviews of Iain Bankss debut novel, The Wasp Factory, these seem to be the most commonly used words. But I think theyve missed out the most important one: FUNNY.
The Wasp Factory is described on the front cover as a gothic horror, and sure, it does contain a lot of gore, violence and killing. However, when I read this book I found it funny more than anything. Its black humour, certainly, probably as black as it gets, and definitely quite shocking in parts. But there was nothing scary or particularly disturbing about it, at least not to me anyway! Maybe Im just a freak
The story is written from the perspective of Frank Cauldhame, a 16 year old boy who lives on a remote Scottish island with his dad. Frank doesnt officially exist. His older brother, Eric, has just escaped from a mental hospital and is on the rampage. And his dad likes to ask him the capacity of their dessert spoons. Oh, and Frank has already killed three children. Quite an eccentric family, dont you think?
However, Frank is over all that; it was just a phase I was going through declares the back cover. Nowadays, he prefers to get drunk with his dwarf friend, build then explode dams, burn rabbits, put the heads of dead birds on sticks, and torture wasps with a homemade device called The Factory. What a charming young man.
If you think this plot sounds absolutely vile and revolting, youre dead right, but that should not stop you reading this fantastic book. Its marvellously written for a start. Banks has an amazing gift for dialogue; the hilarious phone conversations between Frank and Eric being the primary exponent of this skill. His descriptions veer from graphic and depraved to beautiful, as we enter into Franks lonely world and his life on this barren but exciting island. His imagery is great; you can really picture the scenery in your mind, and yes, although he does dwell on the sadistic and sickening violence, he puts it across with great panache!
What really puts this book up there with the best of the Twentieth Century is Banks astonishing and downright bizarre imagination. I wont spoil it for you, but the ways in which Frank dispatches his younger brothers and cousins, especially the third one, are simply genius. The brilliance of these scenes lies in the twisted humour thats used. As one review inside the front cover states, you cant laugh and throw up at the same time, and for me that just about sums it up. I was laughing my head off at horrible violence, and that must surely mark the talent of the writer if he can make me do that! The eccentricities of Franks father are also completely hilarious; I found him one of the funniest, and strangest, characters I have ever come across.
Other notable bizarre dealings of this scary imagination include the story of what happened to Eric, which culminates in one of the most disgusting images you can imagine. Also, the Wasp Factory itself is a marvellous creation. As with the rest of the novel, its quite sadistic and sick, but also strangely beautiful, and it has a metaphorical meaning for the whole book. Plus I dont like wasps.
Great shakes have been made about the amazing twist at the end, not least my mum who kept asking me Have you got to the twist yet?, which thus diminished the whole excitement of finding the twist. I have to say, although its every bit as imaginative as the rest of the book, it wasnt particularly special. It made me think a bit, and say ohh, thats interesting, but it wasnt the kind of twist that makes you want to go back and read it all again to spot the clues. A bit of a letdown.
I thought the structure and pacing of The Wasp Factory were good. Right from the start, the narrative drops in tantalising clues and phrases, for example Frank keeps referring to The Factory, but only near the end does he finally tell us what that entails. The flashbacks of how he killed his relations, and how he and Eric wound up the way they are, are dispersed regularly throughout the 200 or so pages, so that you keep reading on to find out, but Banks only lets you in on it a bit at a time. Towards the end I was completely hooked as Eric got closer and closer, and the ending was well-judged, although perhaps a bit brief.
To sum up, The Wasp Factory is a great book. Its packed full of inventiveness, oddities, great dialogue and a lot of seriously dark humour. Probably too dark for some, which would explain all the this freaked me out comments. Yes, it does contain a lot of sadistic cruelty to animals, and yes, it does include a lot of graphic torture and violence, which is enhanced by the fact the protagonist is so young, but you have to remember, its only a fiction novel. You dont have to read it, but I would thoroughly recommend that you do.
Oh and by the way, The Wasp Factory was published in 1984. I hadnt realised it was so old (22 years!), so maybe in its day it was completely radical and extremely violent, like the Clockwork Orange of its day. That would explain a lot of the disgust. These days, it probably doesnt seem so bad, although Ill leave that up to you to decide!
Dont have nightmares!
You can buy The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks on www.amazon.co.uk for £6.39. It is also available in Audiobook format, read by the brilliant Peter Capaldi, for £7.25 (also www.amazon.co.uk).
Other works of fiction by Iain Banks include:
Walking On Glass
Canal Dreams (I've read this too, it's not as good as Wasp Factory)
The Crow Road
And science fiction novels by Iain M. Banks include:
The Player Of Games
Use Of Weapons
The State Of The Art
Against A Dark Background
The story of Frank, an unconventional 16 year-old. Frank has already killed three people, but was it just a stage he was going through?