The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The Wasp Factory
Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons that I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Emerelda, 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.

Frank Cauldhame is a sixteen year old who has killed three people and doesn't bat an eyelid before torturing an animal or insect. He has an impressive system of nomenclature for any significant landmark in the dunes behind his house on an island, such as The Snake Park, where one of his victims was killed, The Bomb Circle, where another victim died, and so on. His brother Eric, who was admitted to a psychiatric institution after setting dogs on fire, had somehow managed to escape from the institution, leaving his father and the cop worried. Frank himself doesn't know whether to worry or await Eric's ultimate arrival at his house - he has been perceiving signals around his house that Eric's arrival might not be such a good thing. Should he take the initiative and stop Eric or wait and watch?

When I first heard of this book on Jackie's blog, I was reminded of Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, which I read earlier this year and loved! The Wasp Factory also has a protagonist whose definition of what's normal is heavily skewed, and I love reading from perspectives of characters like these (which also include serial killers, psychopaths, depressed/bipolar people, etc). Reading about these characters makes me realize how fragile the thing called the brain actually is, and how a tiny snap is all you need to careen from being a sensible person to someone still intelligent but highly irrational, emotional or antipathetic, and incapable of leading the life that was. On that grounds, I felt that Iain Banks succeeded in creating a character whose reasoning was flawed and yet very sound, who explains his killings without any remorse, and who left me worrying about the plight of the other characters, despite his promise not to kill again.

Frank has a lot of prejudices - he despises women and doesn't shirk from thinking venomous thoughts against them. He had a calculated calm manner to doing things, and could explain away even the most stray occurrence as a sign from the Wasp Factory. And the Wasp Factory itself is an intricate invention of this kid who except for possessing such disturbing thoughts is otherwise a genius in many ways. I had been waiting to see what this factory was all about, after it being mentioned a ton of times all throughout. I guessed, of course, that whatever it was, it was not going to be pleasant, seeing as Frank reveres it and the author wasn't giving away too much. After all the buildup, when I finally reached the chapter, it turned to be sort of anti-climatic, because I was expecting a whole lot more in there, but let me just say that the wasp factory in itself blew me away. I did end up feeling way too sorry for the wasps, and I'm just glad that Frank didn't invent something like that for bigger living things.

Although I wouldn't classify this book as creepy, despite its contents, (and it didn't leave me with any kind of nightmares), the author does succeed in giving Frank's actions a kind of real-world feeling. At some point through the book, I had to keep telling myself that this was fiction. Frank had all the tell-tale signs of a future serial killer, and I desperately wanted someone to take note and do something about it. His brother Eric was another enigmatic character, and half the time, I was left wondering who I would choose to keep home, if I had to. Their conversations were hilarious when you think that you wouldn't go to either people for advice. It was just totally mind-blowing how no one wised up to Frank's actions, his own father spends most of his time drunk and leaving Frank to his own devices. Of course, his father has a bigger secret locked up in his study, which Frank had been trying to enter for years. When he finally manages to enter the room, I totally never saw that twist coming even from a mile away, even with all the hints dropped through the book. That ending somehow eased up some of my worries of Frank's possibly shady future, but it didn't feel very convincing.

This is my first experience with Banks' work and I didn't know until recently that he had published a lot of known works. This book took me a while to finish - I would have appreciated a map of the island, because I had trouble picturing some of the descriptions of the island and the dunes. It is however a book that I hope to reread at some point, because I'm sure I didn't get the significance of some aspects. I did feel that some questions weren't answered and am still left wondering about them, but I could just as easily have overlooked them while reading. Overall, The Wasp Factory was a nice literary sketch of a cold, impassive mind.

I am a bookaholic and I purchased this book.


30 comments:

Stephanie said...

I have been meaning to read something by Banks for years.  I have no idea where to start!

Sally @ Bibrary Book Lust said...

I've had this on my to-read list for far too long . . . I need to kick it up a few notches. Nice review!

Anna said...

This sounds like an intense book and a very interesting character study.  Great review!

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

For some reason it is interesting to get into the mind of someone so different.  This book might be over my head.

Ti said...

I love books that question what normal is. 

zibilee said...

Oh, this book sounds so intriguing an you have given me such a vivid picture of what it's all about that I feel I need to read it right away! Such a disturbing premise, and so much there to work with! I can't wait to read this book. Your review was wonderful and gave me a great enthusiasm to check this one out! Wonderful job today!

Helen Murdoch said...

This book seems to fit with the one I just read (Violence 101) and somehow I've managed to pick up another one with a creepy topic (death penalty). Maybe I should have gone for something a little more light

Athira / Aths said...

I'm hoping to read his Culture series next! It sounds fabulous!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! If you read it, I'll be looking for your review!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! It was a fabulous character sketch!

Athira / Aths said...

It went over my head occasionally too, but it was worth it in the end. 

Athira / Aths said...

Totally! Reminds me of Murakami...

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get to read it Heather! It was a fabulous read! 

Athira / Aths said...

I wonder if it's the season or what .. even my books seem to have a dark undertone!

Jackie said...

I didn't see that twist coming at all either! I'd love to re-read the book at some point now I have that knowledge and check out if all the clues add up.

I agree that it didn't feel creepy. It is amazing that you can read a book about such gruesome subjects and come away without the nightmares. He is a skillful writer and I'm sure you'll love many more of his books (I've only read The Business, which I enjoyed, but not quite as much as The Wasp Factory)

MedeiaSharif said...

I remember seeing this on a list of "disturbing" books and your thoughts intrigue me even more.  I'd love to read it.

Bibliophilebythesea said...

The cover freaks me out a bit!

Rachel Steiner said...

What an intriguing review! I will definitely check this out. Have you read An Absolute Gentleman by R.M. Kinder? First-person narrator is a college professor who also happens to be a serial killer...

Tea Time with Marce said...

I thought I had commented, must have read at work where I can't.   I did put it on my Wishlist after your review though.  Something about this definitely intrigues me, look forward to trying it.

ChewDigest said...

After reading this, I can't wait to get my hands on The Wasp Factory. Disturbed characters do it for me and I realize that by saying that I am admitting to being a bit disturbed myself. Psychology and the mind is just so fascinating, like you said a person can go either way and you never know what will tip the balance for one side or the dark side. 

softdrink said...

Even if the book wasn't creepy, the cover sure is!

Athira / Aths said...

I'm pretty glad that it wasn't too creepy either. The subjects addressed aren't easy to stomach, but they don't leave lasting images in our head, so that's good. I can't wait to check out more of his books!

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you do! It's fascinating! 

Athira / Aths said...

You should hold it. It's even more creepy in "person". I was happy to shelve it.

Athira / Aths said...

I haven't, so thanks for introducing me to it. I will definitely check it out! 

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! Hope you will like it. I will be looking forward to your thoughts.

Athira / Aths said...

Haha, if you are disturbed, then I am too. There's nothing I like more than reading books with disturbed characters.

Athira / Aths said...

It is! I was so happy when I was done with it and I didn't have to stare at the cover anymore! 

Violet said...

I loved this book, and the twist is totally brilliant. Can't recommend it highly enough. Just one of those stand-out reads for me.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! So glad that you recommend it too!