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Sting in the tale
by Asa Butcher
2006-10-17 10:49:30
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The Wasp Factory
Iain Banks
Abacus (1992)

'As a piece of writing, The Wasp Factory soars to the level of mediocrity. Maybe the crassly explicit language, the obscenity of the plot, were thought to strike an agreeably avant-garde note…Perhaps it is all a joke, meant to fool literary London into respect for rubbish.' - The Times

Would you believe that this is just one of the reviews inside the front cover of Iain Banks' debut novel back in 1984? In fact, reading through the three pages of critics' comments leaves you marvelling at the bravery and courage of an author to feature such savage reviews of his first work. Banks has balls of brass or a twisted sense of humour because I doubt many authors would even consider carrying this type of damaging review on the first page of their first book.

'A silly, gloatingly sadistic and grisly yarn of a family of Scots lunatics, one of whom tortures small creatures,' writes the Sunday Express and they are spot on. The story is cruel, cold and vicious leaving you shocked at the events Banks has concocted and praying that no small children ever decide to read this book. However, you are not a small child, are you?

The Wasp Factory takes you on a psychological journey of one of the most twisted 16-year-olds you are likely to encounter in literature. Frank Cauldhame is one of three children; his older brother has just escaped from a mental institution and is heading back to their home and his younger brother was killed by Frank a few years earlier. Frank has three murders to his name, but, as he says, "I haven't killed anybody for years, and I don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through."

Frank lives his anonymous life via daily rituals that include torturing animals and maintaining the Wasp Factory, a device he uses to divine the future. His only friend is a dwarf and his father took advantage of teaching him at home by convincing him that "Pathos was one of the Three Musketeers, Fellatio was a character in Macbeth, Vitreous a town in China, and that Irish peasants had to tread the peat to make Guinness."

Each of the reviews in the book comment upon the sadism committed by Frank and it isn't often that I find myself cringing and shuddering at the actions of a fictional character. There is very little that makes you want to connect with Frank or offer compassion to his situation; he is a true anti-hero, for the lack of a better description. The one redeeming feature for Frank is that his mentally insane older brother is even worse, especially when it comes to his relationship with dogs.

Iain Bank's The Wasp Factory is a nauseating piece of writing that will have you hooked from its contradictory reviews to the shocking revelation at its climax. Whether you agree with the Daily Telegraph or Sunday Express's negativity or disagree with The Independent listing it as one of its top 100 books of the 20th century, you will experience a book that may twist your dreams into nightmares.

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Banks fan2006-10-16 21:13:12
My favourite Banks' book is 'Espedair Street' - a great story about a rock n roll. 'The Bridge' is pretty surreal too.

Actually, 'The Crow Road' is my favourite....I can't decide!!!

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