Deranged lunacy this week as we take a look at Iain M. Banks’ the Wasp Factory – gothic horror oddness with wasps. The Scottish author (1954 – 2013) debuted with this debauched, macabre novel which flat out appalled some in the literary world (we’ve included several amusing review snippets further below). Released in 1984, the author eventually went on to carve a prolific niche in the science fiction market. Go and check him out, if that’s your type of thing.
In the meantime, the Wasp Factory is an extremely dark novel about 16 year old Frank. This teenager has some serious issues, unconventionality being the least disturbing. As it’s so gruesome and provocative, many critics gave it a hard time. It did receive praise too, however, and allowed Banks to carve out his career. We quite enjoyed the book, but primilarly include it in our hallowed Book of da Week as it was divisive. We like that sort of thing. It makes you think.
The Wasp Factory
Written in Frank’s perspective, the novel describes his childhood and his flourishing “terrible teen” years which are ahead of him. He has a deeply troubled brain and he follows numerous shamanistic rituals (which he’s invented), as well as having a habit or killing his family members. Frank also has a habit of annihilating the local wasp community with a cruel (but inventive) “factory” he creates out of an old clock face. For Frank, however, his central concern is the arrival of his unstable brother back from a mental hospital and the reveal of a bit twist.
Spoilers aren’t included in our reviews so we shan’t reveal the twist ending, but we’ll state right here and now we considered it somewhat tacked on – it’s deliberately controversial and a boring attempt at shocking the squeamish, rather than having any real intellectual merit or wow factor. There you go, that’s merely our opinion and there are plenty more of them out there. Disagree with us? Good on you, just try not to launch a volley of verbal abuse in our comments section (modish for t’internet these days, we know).
Critical Reviews Galore!
The book is good, however, and worth a read if gothic insanity if your type of thing. In 1984, many blissfully innocent darlings in the press (those bloody hacks!) had to review this monument to Satan and, my word, they did not react positively. Here are but a few of the best excerpts (verbatim)… dare we state it? Some make a decent point. Enjoy!
“A repulsive piece of work and will therefore be widely admired. Piles horror upon horror in a way that is certain to satisfy those readers who subscribe to the currently fashionable notion that Man is vile.” Evening Standard
“The surest way to make an impact with a first novel, if not the most satisfactory, is to deal in extremes of oddity and unpleasantness: so in The Wasp Factory, we have some ghoulish frivolity and a good deal of preposterous sadism. Unfortunately the novelist’s satiric intention is overwhelmed by his relish for exorbitant brutalities. A literary equivalent of the nastiest brand of juvenile delinquency: inflicting outrages on animals.” TLS
“No masterpiece and one of the most disagreeable pieces of reading that has come my way in quite a while, but scoring high for pace, narrative, control and sheer nasty inventiveness. Iain Banks must be given credit for a polished debut. Enjoy it I did not.” Sunday Telegraph
“A silly, gloatingly sadistic and grisly yarn of a family and Scots lunatics, one of whom tortures small creatures – a bit better written than most horror hokum but really just the lurid literary equivalent of a video nasty.” Sunday Express
“It is a sick, sick world when the confidence and investment of an astute firm of publishers is justified by a work of unparalleled depravity.” Irish Times
“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