The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks Book Review - Kristopher Cook

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

by Kristopher Cook
Read Time: 4 minutes

Iain Banks is a well-respected author from Dunfermline Scotland. The Wasp Factory is his first book, and due to its popularity, is the reason Banks was able to become a full-time writer. He died in June 2013, aged 59, of inoperable cancer.

Just when I thought I’d read it all, along comes The Wasp Factory.

Full of dark humour and sadistic brilliance, this book will live long in the memory.

Synopsis

The story of a psychopathic teenager living on a remote Scottish island. Told from a first-person perspective, 16-year-old Francis (aka Frank) describes his childhood and the tribulations that he’s faced.

He spends his free-time building dams in the countryside and then using a cache of homemade weapons to blow them up. These range from catapults, pipe bombs, and a flamethrower.

As these events start to bore him, he turns his attention towards wild animals, and then relatives.

Looking at me, you’d never guess I’d killed three people. It isn’t fair.

Iain Banks, Chapter 1

Other than meeting with his friend Jamie, a dwarf from his local town, he spends no time socialising and is cut off from the outside world.

To this day he’s traumatised by an incident that took place in his infancy. He was attacked by a vicious dog that completely castrated him. This incident also coincides with the last time that he saw his mother.

This book is not only dark and twisted, but it’s also filled with visceral imagery.

From the first introduction of Frank, you know that all is not well at home or in the mind. Having being disturbed by various events Frank branches out into the world of killing.

Now, I’m not talking some sort of super-spy or anything like that, I mean he’s only a kid after all. But once he has his first taste of blood, he realises how easy these killings are to cover up using the innocence of his youth.

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.

Iain Banks, Chapter 3

He often uses these moments to his advantage, to gain attention from various family members, and most importantly, the focus of his Father.

The killings are told in a black-and-white matter of fact way, that possesses similar notions to American Psycho and The Killer Inside Me. Black humour mixed with graphic depictions of violence makes for an uncomfortable read.

Frank’s manic side is shown through his killings, of both humans and animals. Okay, especially of animals.

What is ‘The Wasp Factory’?

The term, The Wasp Factory comes from Frank’s invention of a house of mirrors, except instead of it being a fun room, it’s a torture device used to kill wasps slowly.

Built into the back of an old clock, there are 12 traps in the wasp factory that lead to several rituals of sacrifice; burning, crushing, drowning and suffocating.

Frank believes that the wasp should be allowed to choose its own fate, even though every option leads to death in a slow painful manner.

The device is kept in the attic of the house, as his Father has a bad leg and cannot climb the steps to see what is going on.

Family Matters

His Father is always keeping himself busy in his lab but won’t reveal what he’s up to. To make matters worse, whenever Frank tries to gain access it’s always locked!

Frank has an older brother Eric, who’s just made his escape from a psychiatric institution and is heading towards the house. As the chapters go on, Eric becomes more and more of a threat to those around him.

Eric was locked up for arson, killing dogs and force-feeding children maggots. He sounds quite the charmer.

Although completely erratic in his behaviour, it’s clear that Frank still loves his brother and wishes for the day that he can return home for them to be a happy family. I’d say ‘again’ but from what I gather that was never the case.

Closing Thoughts

Criticised for its use of grotesque violence and inhumane characters, The Wasp Factory is a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Sure, there are moments of pure disgust, like the event that drove Eric mad, which is still scarred into my nightmares. The characters are entirely null and void of any likeability, yet despite this, it’s a deeply psychological book that explores the results of neglect in a broken home.

If you enjoy dark psychological reads, think Sharp Objects, then you’ll love this book.

Did you enjoy The Wasp Factory? Are you a fan of Ian Banks in general? Leave your comments below to get involved in the discussion.

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