The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks: A review

Fifty-first book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. It isn’t for those who can’t stand gore and animal cruelty and the death of children. But in its own way, this is one of the best books I have ever read.

This is the story of Frank, a 16 year old living with his Father on an island. His brother, Eric, has just escaped from a mental asylum and for the major part of the book, Frank is troubled by random phone calls from Eric who keeps updating him about his progress towards their house. Eric’s imminent return is not what troubles Frank, for he loves his brother, but he doesn’t understand why their conversations almost always end up with Eric getting flared up over something or the other.

wasp factory coverFranks relationship with his dad is strange. His dad keeps many secrets from him and he is constantly feeling that his dad keeps experimenting with him. His dad’s sense of humor is vile and some of it does rub off on Frank.

But thanks to his dad’s bum leg, Frank has an entire loft to himself that he has developed as his own secret haven. Here, he has built an entire mythology around himself, complete with an altar, sacred objects (like the skull of a dog that mauled him as a kid) and ritual sacrifices of wasps that he collects in an elaborate death trap inside an old clock face that he calls the ‘wasp factory’. It is fascinating to see the intelligence and genius behind the stories that Frank comes up with his extraordinary imagination.

The way Frank turns out is mainly because of his father, an entirely heartless person. And in quite surprising ways that you’ll find out when you read the novel. He has utter disdain for women, who he thinks are stupid and useless because that’s how his dad feels about them. He has no friends except a dwarf, who is again, not a very good influence over him. He hates the world for treating his brother badly and for no fault of his at all. It is not surprising then, considering his circumstances, that Frank turns to violence, and even to murder, to deal with the world around him. I think that’s just a part of his growing up and coming of age.

This is a disturbing novel, but it is also funny. Since it is a first person narrative, it is all Franks sadistic sense of humor and surprisingly, in many places it made me chuckle! Sample this –

He hit and fatally injured my innocent and unfortunate uncle whose muttered last words in hospital, before his coma became a full stop, were: ‘My God, the buggers’ve learned to fly…’

I’m not ashamed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this depraved work of fiction. In a way, it is more than that; it is also satire and an examination of the life of the outcasts of society. This isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if you can stomach all that I have mentioned at the top, you will get to enjoy an extremely well-written novel.

the wasp factory fb cover

A death is always exciting, always makes you realise how alive you are, how vulnerable but so-far-lucky; but the death of somebody close gives you a good excuse to go a bit crazy for a while and do things that would otherwise be inexcusable. What delight to behave really badly and still get loads of sympathy!

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2 comments

  1. This sounds like a very interesting book, Aamil!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! It is! I’m sure you’ll like it :-)

      Like

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