About me
Archive
About me

Review: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Iain Banks, one of my favourite authors, died earlier this week aged just 59. The world has lost a literary genius. With that in mind, it felt inappropriate to write about any other author’s work this week. This isn’t a proper review, more just a collection of thoughts on Banks’s most famous work.

I’ve never really enjoyed science fiction, but I’m a big fan of most of Iain Bank’s non-scifi novels. The Wasp Factory was his first, and I think probably his greatest (though it’s a close call between this and the rather different Whit).

The Wasp Factory tells the story of Frank, an adolescent living with his eccentric single father on a Scottish island. Frank’s brother is in a psychiatric hospital. Frank himself is, to say the least, severely maladjusted, taking part in bizarre sacrificial rituals of his own making, and expressing negative emotions through extreme violence, and occasionally murder.

It’s a modern Gothic character study, with such evocative description in some scenes that they evoked a physical response in me – and I think this is the only book I’ve ever read which has had that effect. Frank serves as the psychologically flawed first-person narrator, which provides for the deeply disturbing normalisation of grotesque horror, but also for perhaps the darkest and funniest moments of black levity in any of Banks’s books.

This is a novel which really rewards re-reading because of the number of different levels on which it plays, and the number of themes it explores: power and abuse, psychiatric illness, identity, and loneliness to list just some of the more prominent. There is a “big twist” at the end of The Wasp Factory which might discourage re-reading, but, in fact, the knowledge gained from the ending sets out a whole other level for the reader to explore within the narrative. I’ve read it quite a number of times, and have read individual passages even more.

This was also the first book I gave to Wendy, some time before we started dating. In hindsight, it may well be one of the world’s least romantic books, but it evidently didn’t put her off me too much!

The edition I have is also unusual for displaying quotes from reviews that are highly critical of the book, alongside the more positive ones. That felt like a brave yet endearing decision. It’s probably also a fairly successful marketing ploy: I can’t remember a single one of the cover quotes from any other books I’ve read, yet can remember some from this volume which I first read well over a decade ago.

The Wasp Factory is only a couple of hundred pages long, but it’s a couple of hundred pages that’s stayed with me for a long time. If you haven’t read it before, I hope that you will. It stands as testament to the genius of its creator, who will be sorely missed by legions of fans.

* * * * *

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

This 2,028th post was filed under: Book Reviews, , .






More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th October 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 3rd September 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th August 2017)

Some thoughts on GMC social media guidance (published 5th April 2013)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 30th June 2016)

Swing Update (published 27th April 2005)

Photo-a-day 37: Royal Festival Hall (published 6th February 2014)


Comments and responses

No comments or responses to this article have been published yet.

Compose a new comment



Comment

You may use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> .

If you would like to display a profile picture beside your comment, sign up for Gravatar, and enter your email address above.

By submitting your comment, you confirm that it conforms to the site's comment policy. Comments are subject to both automatic and human moderation, and may take some time to appear.



The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. This site uses cookies - click here for more information.