the Little Red Reviewer

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks

Posted on: August 30, 2018

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks

published in 1984

where I got it: purchased used

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You’ve read some Iain M. Banks then?  Some Culture novels? The “.M” means you’re reading his science fiction.  Without that middle initial, you’re holding a contemporary fiction novel in your hands.

 

The Wasp Factory may not be science fiction (or anything even approaching a Culture novel), but oh is it so very Iain Banks.  He throws you in the deep end on page one, leaves you on your own to figure out the local slang terms, populates the book with characters who are as confident in their actions as they are secretive about their motives, and then flips everything inside out for the climactic reveal.  Yup, this is definitely a Banks novel!

 

At less than two hundred pages,  you’d think this book would be a fast read. And it is, sort of. It’s easy to read, the vocabulary isn’t difficult, and I have no complaints on the pacing.  But it is not an easy book to read. The Wasp Factory is solid violence, nastiness, sociopathic tendencies, animal abuse, and cold blooded murder.

 

This is a novel in which a child commits premeditated murder three times before the age of eleven, and doesn’t feel the slightest remorse.

 

Oh, you’re thinking grimark? I think Frank Cauldhame could give even Jorg a run for his money.  That is not a compliment. If A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies had an ultraviolent psychopathic younger brother they didn’t want anyone to know about, The Wasp Factory is that brother.

Now in his late teens, Frank has always lived on the island with his father. It’s a good thing Frank prefers to spend time by himself, building dams in the river, shooting rabbits on the island, and walking through the woods, as he knows it is a bad idea for him to spend time away from home and off the island. Mentioned early in the story, he doesn’t have a birth certificate, was never registered for school, and doesn’t have any ID.  His father, a retired doctor, handles any medical issues that come up. This is the life that Frank knows, and he is satisfied with it. His only contact with the outside world is drinking at the village pub with his friend Jamie, and answering the phone when his brother Eric calls the house.

 

Frank’s  father doesn’t have it easy either: two failed relationships,  one son who died in a freak accident, another son who had a mental breakdown, and then there’s Frank, who hopefully will never leave home.   That freak accident? Wasn’t an accident.   But Frank isn’t a villain, right??

 

Told in first person (if you don’t like first person POV,  you will really not enjoy this book!), Frank tells his story in the order he pleases.  This is the Banks style of throwing the reader in the deep end, with continued reading being rewarded by a story that unfolds like origami, where at the end you can see the folds and the fault lines that would have been impossible to see at the start.  The Wasp Factory truly is a story that absolutely can not be told in chronological order.

 

Really, this is a truly disturbing book.  Sometimes you read a horror novel, and a character murders another character, and you know it’s a fantasy, you know it’s a book,  the whole thing feels kind of comic-book-action-y, right? Where you know that an actual person would never do those things, and the whole thing feels over the top. It’s escapism.  You know what I mean? The Wasp Factory does not feel like escapism. It feels like a completely rational person relating to you how he killed his neighbor, his brother, and his cousin, in the same exact tone of voice that you’d talk about your golf game or what you bought at the grocery store.  To Frank, this is just his boring mundane life. The worst thing? That thing with the kite was kinda brilliant. Totally fucked up and awful and I can’t believe I’m calling it smart, but that was brilliant.

 

And it doesn’t get better. this book does not have a happy ending. It does not have a single happy page.

 

Every review I read of this book talks about surprise twist at the end.  Was there a twist? Yes. Was I surprised? Fuck yes! The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking “what could the twist be? What could it be????   Could it be this? Or what about this other thing? Maybe it’s this, and that paragraph was a clue? They were decent guesses, but nothing I came up with was even close to the truth.  I never saw that ending coming. Were their clues? In hindsight, yes, there were clues. I didn’t know what I was looking at, so I didn’t see them as clues.

 

The thing about the end, is that it made me question everything I thought about the beginning of the book.   Was the big reveal at the end the reason Frank does all the creepy weird things he does? Or was I just looking for a reason (any reason!) to rationalize his actions?  Should I blame the person responsible for the twist for Frank’s actions? Is it Frank’s fault he is a sociopath, or is it the fault of something outside of his control, something he doesn’t even know about until the end of the book?  How many other characters in the book knew about what was going on? Did Eric know? Did Mrs. Clamp know? Does everyone in this fucking village know, everyone except Frank?

 

Whatever you do, do NOT look this book up on wikipedia.  You will get all spoilers and no context, which is the worst possible way to have a twist ending spoiled for you.

 

I recommend this book for readers who are already a fan of Iain M. Banks.  If you have never read a Banks novel, The Wasp Factory is a terrible place to start.

 

I sure did need a unicorn chaser after reading this book, that’s for sure.

 

 

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5 Responses to "The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks"

This has been on my TBR for years! I’m really going to have to try and prioritize it

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it’s a sort of quick read, you could probably get through it in a weekend.

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Oh, man! Now you need to read something really, really light and fluffy! A Jim Hines novel? A romance novel? (I can recommend sweet and hilarious romance if you’re in the mood.)

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I went to my “comfort reads” shelf. and by “comfort reads”, I mean old Steven Brust books. found a winner!

but, would still love your recommendations for sweet and hilarious romance, please!

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Oh wow, yes! I read this maybe eight years ago and it’s never left me. It’s a book I love recommending to a very particular type of customer (after we’ve established that they’d be open to the utter f***ery that is Frank) because I love to hear people’s reactions to it. 🙂
Your review has totally done this book justice! 🙂

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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