Iain Banks
The Wasp Factory (1984)
Reviewed: 1996-02-02

The Wasp Factory marked Scottish writer Iain Banks's literary debut. A controversial novel. Shocking? Disgusting? Or appropriate and well developing its dark subject? Disturbing to most readers, I guess, as any other book must be which deals with insanity.

The reader enters the world of Frank, seventeen years old, who lives on a small island by the Scottish coast, together with his father. Frank, it turns out, has some very disturbing habits. His father seems to be merely an extreme eccentric. Together they learn that Eric, Frank's brother, has escaped. Eric has offically and quite justly been declared insane. Days and weeks pass by as Eric is on his way home, and Frank prepares for what will culminate in a traumatic climax. Along the way we follow the, er, unconventional practices making up Frank's everyday life, we experience his mental deformity first hand, and learn about his past, e.g. how and why he killed two of his cousins and his younger brother. By the end, all the pieces of a gruesome mosaic have fallen into place.

It is a dark book, mostly devoid of the fine humor found in many of Banks's other works. It details nasty killings of animals and humans. The main characters display various stages of mental illness. This isn't a horror novel, it is simply unpleasant.

Personally, I didn't like The Wasp Factory. I acknowledge that it is quite well-written, but I didn't enjoy it. I like cynicism, and I don't flinch on graphic depictions of violence. This book, however, is simply depressing and thoroughly unpleasant. Be warned.

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