Review | The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

WaspFactory3TITLE: The Wasp Factory
: Iain Banks
: 1984
GENRE: Gothic Horror, Adult Fiction

The Wasp Factory is the creepy debut novel of Scottish author, Iain Banks.  16-year-old Frank is no ordinary teenager.  His life revolves around the ritualistic torture of animals and reading omens from the mysterious Wasp Factory hidden in his attic.  His lunatic brother’s escape from psychiatric care has Frank reflecting on a dark past.  

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.  That’s my score to date.  Three.  I haven’t killed anybody in years, and don’t intend to ever again.  It was just a stage I was going through – page 52

Frank is a confronting narrator; death and destruction are part of his daily routine.  He runs amok on his father’s property, detonating homemade explosives and tending to his shrines of shrivelled animal corpses.  While the Wasp Factory’s prophetic powers give Frank vague clues to the future, he is equally obsessed with the past.  The mysterious circumstances of his three murders and his haunting childhood “accident” will keep readers in suspense until the final pages.

All our lives are symbols.  Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in.  The strong make their own patterns and influence other people’s, the weak have their courses mapped out for them.  The weak and the unlucky, and the stupid.  The Wasp Factory is part of the pattern because it is part of life and – even more so – part of death – page 163

In keeping with the Gothic genre, The Wasp Factory keeps readers in constant discomfort with grotesque imagery.  However, Frank’s narrative is extremely compelling.  Although he’s easily labelled as a sociopath (at least), his self-awareness is riveting.  His articulate reflections may seduce you with their simplicity – Frank has fundamental justifications for all his actions.  His sociopathic worldview and acts of gory self-actualisation are terrifying, but captivating.  I couldn’t avert my eyes from this book.

The Wasp Factory is also extremely plot-driven.  Although the opening chapters focus on Frank’s voice, the pace and suspense gradually build to explosive climax.  The sense of macabre deepens throughout for a gut-churning Gothic experience.

Frank is an unforgettable narrator.  His story may leave you desperate to scrub yourself clean. 

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