The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

The wasp factory

“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.”

The joy of reading challenges! This is a book and an author I would never have discovered otherwise. I found it disturbingly brilliant and loved it.

If the above opening paragraph sounds weird, it is. It reminded me of a combination of Catcher in the Rye, American Psycho and Lord of the Flies. It is the story of 16 year old Frank, who lives on an isolated Scottish Island with his father, a retired scientist. Frank’s father is odd.

Frank narrates us through his upbringing – dysfunctional to say the least. In a manner devoid of any emotion, he calmly recounts in minute detail his history and daily life on the island. In essence, Frank tortures animals, kills young relatives and performs religious type rituals.

“Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered by young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons that I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”

Despite his calm exterior, Frank life is full of anxiety. To dispel this anxiety, directed by the “wasp factory”, he has a number of rituals and tasks that he spends his days completing. These mainly involve patrolling the island, checking on his sentries (dead animals on poles), and negating any perceived threats. Frank considers his primary enemies to be women and the sea.

The news that his brother Eric has escaped froman asylum and is making his way back to the island, killing and eating dogs along the way increases Frank’s anxiety levels.

This books is full of secrets. Frank tells us of his “unfortunate disability” and the “unpleasant incident” that turned his brother Eric mad. Frank’s father insists on cooking all of Frank’s meals and has a study that is constantly locked. Frank checks it everytime his father leaves the house hoping he has forgotten to lock it which he never has. Then there is the “wasp factory”, installed in the attic which is the only place Frank’s father can’t access with his dodgy leg. We as the reader need to make out way through the book to have these secrets revealed.

I am soft when it comes to animals. So much so that I don’t even watch Disney movies involving animals in case something happens to them. For this reason I wasn’t sure that I could cope with this book but it didn’t turn out to be a problem. There was only one scene I found shocking. All I can say is that it involves maggots and completely freaked me out.

There is a big twist at the end which changes the whole context of the story.

I enjoyed this book mainly for its humour. The bizzareness and deadpan narration style were hilarious at times. Also the psychological profile aspect of Frank who actually was quite an endearing character. How could that be? And why did I respond to him in that way? Lots of layers to this book which were challenging and fun to explore.

I’m just thinking how I might be able to squeeze another book by Iain Banks into my RIP challenge pool… The Crow Road maybe?

Favourite quote:

”  I didn’t need a pee because I’d been pissing on the poles during the day, infecting them with my scent and power.” Pg 14

Published: 1984

Pages: 244

Challenges: RIP IV, Guardian 1000 novels, Orbis Terrarum

19 responses to “The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

  1. Sounds interesting. I never heard of it before.

  2. I didn’t think Iain Banks would be for me, but my book group chose Whit one month and I loved it. I really should get round to reading another one of his books. I’m pleased to hear this one was good.

  3. I’ve read all of Iain Banks’ books, even the science fiction which I’d had no inclination to read before. I think Crow Road would be a good one for you to read next. It has some of the same quirky humor and off-beat events although not quite as much as The Wasp Factory.

  4. Chris – definitely interesting – and odd!

    Jackie – Thank you. I haven’t heard of Whit but will check it out. I’m almost too scared to try another one just in case in doesn’t live up to my expectations now!

    Vicki – That’s really interesting about the science fiction books – these don’t appeal to me at all but perhaps I will get brave sometime and try one. Thank you for your thoughts on Crow Road, it sounds good!

  5. I suggested this as one of my bookgroup reads a couple of years back. One of the girls was absolutely horrified when she’d read it…she never came back to the book group – oops! I don’t care, I love the book.

    I agree with Vickie, I really enjoyed the Crow Road (and they’ve been showing a dramatisation of it on TV so I’ve been watching that too!)


  6. Kat – Oh no! Perhaps this is one of those books that people love or hate. I had that experience this year with The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, totally different to the Wasp Factory but a book that a lot of people love and I didn’t unfortunately.

    Definitely sounds like Crow Road will be the next Banks book for me, a tv dramatisation too, a bonus!

  7. Years ago a friend bought this for me and I loved it. Oddly enough I haven’t followed it up with any other book by Banks. I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be as good.

  8. Thomas – I can really relate to this. Would be so disappointing as well.

  9. Even if you get one you don’t care as much for, you can’t give up as they are so different. Like I didn’t care for Whit but loved Dead Air and Steep Approach to Garbadale. Others loved The Bridge but I thought it was too weird. I liked Song of Stone but many people thought it was too black. And then there is the science fiction. I’m not a sf fan but I loved Consider Phlebas, Player of Games and Excession.

  10. Vicki – Thanks so much for all these thoughts. Now I have plenty to think about and choose from. Great considering a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know about any of them. One of the many joys of the book blogging community 0:)

  11. Glad you found this book; great isn’t it? I also like Crow Road, but Whit is probably my favorite.

    Good point about Frank being endearing. He is so obviously damaged, and vulnerable, (and motherless.) This may have something to do with it?

  12. Sarah – it is great isn’t it? I am definitely going to try another of Iain Bank’s books and have heard good things about Whit before.

    Ah bless – you are right about Frank being vulnerable etc. I felt quite sorry for him when I read that!

    Thanks for stopping by.

  13. My favourite Banks is The Business, though I love some of his science fiction. I didn’t like Dead Air – I felt I was being manipulated. Crow Road is a lovely book, and the TV series was a really good adaptation.

  14. GeraniumCat – thanks so much for your comment. I haven’t heard of The Business or Dead Air but am curious now. I don’t like feeling manipulated by a book either – I had that with The Other Hand by Chris Cleave earlier in the year..

  15. Pingback: Orbis Terrarum Challenge – Completed! « A Book Sanctuary

  16. science fiction books is the thing that i always read because it stirs my imagination “

  17. reading science fiction books is the stuff that i am always into. science fiction really widens my imagination :*`

  18. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Cheers!

  19. Pingback: The Wasp Factory | Bill Chance

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