Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory Reviews

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Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory
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“Synopsis: ”


written by Dreadlocksmile on 26/08/2004

"The narrator of the novel, Frank Cauldhame, has, at sixteen, settled into a bizarre existence on the small Scottish island owned by his reclusive father. His life there is a strange combination of unpleasant rituals of his own invention; these are designed to proclaim and extend his supremacy over the animals living on the island and to protect him against the outside world. Their centerpiece is the eponymous Wasp Factory, a monumental clock face rescued from the local town (just over a causeway on the mainland) dump which now has traps installed behind each numeral; a wasp is introduced into the hole at the centre and Frank uses the random death "chosen" by the wasp to predict the future. The story begins as Frank and his father receive a warning that Frank's elder brother Eric has escaped from a secure mental hospital, to which he had been committed after incidents including setting fire to dogs and forcing local children to eat worms. Eric's gradual approach to the island defines the duration of the novel and creates its suspense".

First published in 1984, the Scottish writer Iain Banks' first offering was this gritty and twisted tale that created a mass of controversy due to the use of extreme violence and cruelty. These scenes of violence are remembered by the narrator rather than portrayed directly, and with hindsight may be judged as no more inappropriate than the death of Piggy in 'Lord Of The Flies'. The book inlay itself includes a collection of the reviews the novel collected, but included both good and bad viewpoints. This cleverly reflected the shared opinion of a very passionate and intense read.

Written from the first person perspective, and commencing as a narrative reminiscence by the main character, Frank Cauldhame, it gradually and subtly takes on a depiction of contemporary events as the novel develops. The description of events within the unfolding storyline is portrayed in a very 'matter of fact' way, unnerving the reader with the calm and detached way in which the truth of Frank's life in uncovered.

A complex and thought-provoking read, it acts on a number of levels. Written in the bleaker years of the Baroness Thatcher, Banks explores the general rollback of the welfare state and the isolated nature in which Britain had placed some individuals. It also deals with Banks' somewhat skeptical attitudes towards organized religion. Frank undergoes obsessive rituals with his Wasp Factory and produces sacrifices which are erected on poles and scattered around his small island.

The novel spirals to a dramatic climax, with an unnerving twist ending that attacks the nature of power and its potential for abuse. The reader is then forced to reassess their former views on our leading character, provoking further thought and complex emotional responses.

The Wasp Factory is an outstanding and well-written novel that can hold its head up high amongst other twentieth century classics. It is a gripping and powerful read that will repulse and unsettle. Nothing short of genius.

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Fletcherneal's Response to Dreadlocksmile's Review

Written on: 26/08/2004

Must go back and reread this one. I missed most of the "sub-text" first time round. All Banks's books ("Ian" & "Ian M") are a compelling read and reread.

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