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The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

Category: Fiction / General
184 pages; ISBN: 0349101779

Rating: 7/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Dale


The text is preceded by fourteen different quotations from reviews of this book as if Abacus are trying to limit liability for psychological damage suffered by giving plenty of warnings. Certainly "nasty", "sick", "unparalleled depravity", "sadistic", "loathsome" and "repulsive" do tend to suggest that Merchant Ivory won't be bidding for the film rights.

"The Wasp Factory" is a first person narrative detailing the adventures of young Frank Cauldhame who lives with his eccentric but also rather sinister father on a Scottish island. As the novel begins they have just learned that Frank's elder brother Eric has escaped from the lunatic asylum where he has been comitted for setting dogs on fire.

Eric's progress towards the island is the only conventional plotline in the book.The rest of Frank's narrative describes typical days in his life.He is effectively stranded on the island by his father's anarchistic decision not to register his birth and the social embarassment of having his genitals bitten off by the family dog.Frank occupies his time by devising new ways to decimate the island's animal population. The Wasp Factory of the title is a freakishly inventive machine constructed in the family attic to dispose of captive wasps and if, like me you're terrified of the buggers you'll enjoy the lurid description of its operations.

As Frank tours the island, Banks gradually and very skilfully unravels the family history including Frank's three murders (two cousins and a half brother) and Eric's insanity. The final explanation for the latter is truly stomach-churning and I would advise any reader to stop eating once he starts work at the hospital. That scene overshadows the final family secret to emerge which is not entirely plausible and a bit of a let-down.

On the shock-o-meter "The Wasp Factory" is a couple of notches down from "American Psycho" (though the hospital scene outguns anything in Ellis's novel) but it is shorter, much easier to read and the black humour is far more subtle (i.e. British).

To sum up "The Wasp Factory" is a highly original horror story told with style and some wit but in the end it is the nasty details you remember most. For that reason it's recommended with caution.


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