The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory

by Iain Banks

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Overview

The polarizing literary debut by Scottish author Ian Banks, The Wasp Factory is the bizarre, imaginative, disturbing, and darkly comic look into the mind of a child psychopath.

Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684853154
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/28/1998
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 65,751
Product dimensions: 7.98(w) x 5.16(h) x 0.42(d)

About the Author

Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the original publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, recently selected in a British poll as one of the top 100 novels of the century. Since then he has gained enormous popular and critical acclaim with further works of fiction and, as Iain M. Banks, science fiction. He lives in Scotland.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Sacrifice Poles

I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.

At the north end of the island, near the tumbled remains of the slip where the handle of the rusty winch still creaks in an easterly wind, I had two Poles on the far face of the last dune. One of the Poles held a rat head with two dragonflies, the other a seagull and two mice. I was just sticking one of the mouse heads back on when the birds went up into the evening air, kaw-calling and screaming, wheeling over the path through the dunes where it went near their nests. I made sure the head was secure, then clambered to the top of the dune to watch with my binoculars.

Diggs, the policeman from the town, was coming down the path on his bike, pedalling hard, his head down as the wheels sank part way into the sandy surface. He got off the bike at the bridge and left it propped against the suspension cables, then walked to the middle of the swaying bridge, where the gate is. I could see him press the button on the phone. He stood for a while, looking round about at the quiet dunes and the settling birds. He didn't see me, because I was too well hidden. Then my father must have answered the buzzer in the house, because Diggs stooped slightly and talked into the grille beside the button, and then pushed the gate open and walked over the bridge, on to the island and down the path towards the house. When he disappeared behind the dunes I sat for a while, scratching my crotch as the wind played with my hair and the birds returned to their nests.

I took my catapult from my belt, selected a half-inch steelie, sighted carefully, then sent the big ball-bearing arcing out over the river, the telephone poles and the little suspension bridge to the mainland. The shot hit the 'Keep Out — Private Property' sign with a thud I could just hear, and I smiled. It was a good omen. The Factory hadn't been specific (it rarely is), but I had the feeling that whatever it was warning me about was important, and I also suspected it would be bad, but I had been wise enough to take the hint and check my Poles, and now I knew my aim was still good; things were still with me.

I decided not to go straight back to the house. Father didn't like me to be there when Diggs came and, anyway, I still had a couple of Poles to check before the sun went down. I jumped and slid down the slope of the dune into its shadow, then turned at the bottom to look back up at those small heads and bodies as they watched over the northern approaches to the island. They looked fine, those husks on their gnarled branches. Black ribbons tied to the wooden limbs blew softly in the breeze, waving at me. I decided nothing would be too bad, and that tomorrow I would ask the Factory for more information. If I was lucky, my father might tell me something and, if I was luckier still, it might even be the truth.

I left the sack of heads and bodies in the Bunker just as the light was going completely and the stars were starting to come out. The birds had told me Diggs had left a few minutes earlier, so I ran back the quick way to the house, where the lights all burned as usual. My father met me in the kitchen.

'Diggs was just here. I suppose you know.'

He put the stub of the fat cigar he had been smoking under the cold tap, turned the water on for a second while the brown stump sizzled and died, then threw the sodden remnant in the bin. I put my things down on the big table and sat down, shrugging. My father turned up the ring on the cooker under the soup-pan, looking beneath the lid into the warming mixture and then turning back to look at me.

There was a layer of grey-blue smoke in the room at about shoulder level, and a big wave in it, probably produced by me as I came in through the double doors of the back porch. The wave rose slowly between us while my father stared at me. I fidgeted, then looked down, toying with the wrist-rest of the black catapult. It crossed my mind that my father looked worried, but he was good at acting and perhaps that was just what he wanted me to think, so deep down I remained unconvinced.

'I suppose I'd better tell you,' he said, then turned away again, taking up a wooden spoon and stirring the soup. I waited. 'It's Eric.'

Then I knew what had happened. He didn't have to tell me the rest. I suppose I could have thought from the little he'd said up until then that my half-brother was dead, or ill, or that something had happened to him, but I knew then it was something Eric had done, and there was only one thing he could have done which would make my father look worried. He had escaped. I didn't say anything, though.

'Eric has escaped from the hospital. That was what Diggs came to tell us. They think he might head back here. Take those things off the table; I've told you before.' He sipped the soup, his back still turned. I waited until he started to turn round, then took the catapult, binoculars and spade off the table. In the same flat tone my father went on; 'Well, I don't suppose he'll get this far. They'll probably pick him up in a day or two. I just thought I'd tell you. In case anybody else hears and says anything. Get out a plate.'

I went to the cupboard and took out a plate, then sat down again, one leg crossed underneath me. My father went back to stirring the soup, which I could smell now above the cigar smoke. I could feel excitement in my stomach — a rising, tingling rush. So Eric was coming back home again; that was good-bad. I knew he'd make it. I didn't even think of asking the Factory about it; he'd be here. I wondered how long it would take him, and whether Diggs would now have to go shouting through the town, warning that the mad boy who set fire to dogs was on the loose again; lock up your hounds!

My father ladled some soup into my plate. I blew on it. I thought of the Sacrifice Poles. They were my early-warning system and deterrent rolled into one; infected, potent things which looked out from the island, warding off. Those totems were my warning shot; anybody who set foot on the island after seeing them should know what to expect. But it looked like, instead of being a clenched and threatening fist, they would present a welcoming, open hand. For Eric.

'I see you washed your hands again,' my father said as I sipped the hot soup. He was being sarcastic. He took the bottle of whisky from the dresser and poured himself a drink. The other glass, which I guessed had been the constable's, he put in the sink. He sat down at the far end of the table.

My father is tall and slim, though slightly stooped. He has a delicate face, like a woman's, and his eyes are dark. He limps now, and has done ever since I can remember. His left leg is almost totally stiff, and he usually takes a stick with him when he leaves the house. Some days, when it's damp, he has to use the stick inside, too, and I can hear him clacking about the uncarpeted rooms and corridors of the house; a hollow noise, going from place to place. Only here in the kitchen is the stick quieted; the flagstones silence it.

That stick is the symbol of the Factory's security. My father's leg, locked solid, has given me my sanctuary up in the warm space of the big loft, right at the top of the house where the junk and the rubbish are, where the dust moves and the sunlight slants and the Factory sits — silent, living and still.

My father can't climb up the narrow ladder from the top floor; and, even if he could, I know he wouldn't be able to negotiate the twist you have to make to get from the top of the ladder, round the brickwork of the chimney flues, and into the loft proper.

So the place is mine.

I suppose my father is about forty-five now, though sometimes I think he looks a lot older, and occasionally I think he might be a little younger. He won't tell me his real age, so forty-five is my estimate, judging by his looks.

'What height is this table?' he said suddenly, just as I was about to go to the breadbin for a slice to wipe my plate with. I turned round and looked at him, wondering why he was bothering with such an easy question.

'Thirty inches,' I told him, and took a crust from the bin.

'Wrong,' he said with an eager grin. 'Two foot six.'

I shook my head at him, scowling, and wiped the brown rim of soup from the inside of my plate. There was a time when I was genuinely afraid of these idiotic questions, but now, apart from the fact that I must know the height, length, breadth, area and volume of just about every part of the house and everything in it, I can see my father's obsession for what it is. It gets embarrassing at times when there are guests in the house, even if they are family and ought to know what to expect. They'll be sitting there, probably in the lounge, wondering whether Father's going to feed them anything or just give an impromptu lecture on cancer of the colon or tapeworms, when he'll sidle up to somebody, look round to make sure everybody's watching, then in a conspiratorial stage-whisper say: 'See that door over there? It's eighty-five inches, corner to corner.' Then he'll wink and walk off, or slide over on his seat, looking nonchalant.

Ever since I can remember there have been little stickers of white paper all over the house with neat black-biro writing on them. Attached to the legs of chairs, the edges of rugs, the bottoms of jugs, the aerials of radios, the doors of drawers, the headboards of beds, the screens of televisions, the handles of pots and pans, they give the appropriate measurement for the part of the object they're stuck to. There are even ones in pencil stuck to the leaves of plants. When I was a child I once went round the house tearing all the stickers off; I was belted and sent to my room for two days. Later my father decided it would be useful and character-forming for me to know all the measurements as well as he did, so I had to sit for hours with the Measurement Book (a huge loose-leaf thing with all the information on the little stickers carefully recorded according to room and category of object), or go round the house with a jotter, making my own notes. This was all in addition to the usual lessons my father gave me on mathematics and history and so on. It didn't leave much time for going out to play, and I resented it a great deal. I was having a War at the time — the Mussels against the Dead Flies I think it was — and while I was in the library poring over the book and trying to keep my eyes open, soaking up all those damn silly Imperial measurements, the wind would be blowing my fly armies over half the island and the sea would first sink the mussel shells in their high pools and then cover them with sand. Luckily my father grew tired of this grand scheme and contented himself with firing the odd surprise question at me concerning the capacity of the umbrella-stand in pints or the total area in fractions of an acre of all the curtains in the house actually hung up at the time.

'I'm not answering these questions any more,' I said to him as I took my plate to the sink. 'We should have gone metric years ago.'

My father snorted into his glass as he drained it. 'Hectares and that sort of rubbish. Certainly not. It's all based on the measurement of the globe, you know. I don't have to tell you what nonsense that is.'

I sighed as I took an apple from the bowl on the window sill. My father once had me believing that the earth was a Möbius strip, not a sphere. He still maintains that he believes this, and makes a great show of sending off a manuscript to publishers down in London, trying to get them to publish a book expounding this view, but I know he's just mischief-making again, and gets most of his pleasure from his acts of stunned disbelief and then righteous indignation when the manuscript is eventually returned. This occurs about every three months, and I doubt that life would be half as much fun for him without this sort of ritual. Anyway, that is one of his reasons for not switching over to a metric standard for his stupid measurements, though in fact he's just lazy.

'What were you up to today?' He stared across the table at me, rolling the empty tumbler around on the wooden table-top.

I shrugged. 'Out. Walking and things.'

'Building dams again?' he sneered.

'No,' I said, shaking my head confidently and biting the apple. 'Not today.'

'I hope you weren't out killing any of God's creatures.'

I shrugged at him again. Of course I was out killing things. How the hell am I supposed to get heads and bodies for the Poles and the Bunker if I don't kill things? There just aren't enough natural deaths. You can't explain that sort of thing to people, though.

'Sometimes I think you're the one who should be in hospital, not Eric.' He was looking at me from under his dark brows, his voice low. Once, that sort of talk would have scared me, but not now. I'm nearly seventeen, and not a child. Here in Scotland I'm old enough to get married without my parent's permission, and have been for a year. There wouldn't be much point to me getting married perhaps — I'll admit that — but the principle is there.

Besides, I'm not Eric; I'm me and I'm here and that's all there is to it. I don't bother people and they had best not bother me if they know what's good for them. I don't go giving people presents of burning dogs, or frighten the local toddlers with handfuls of maggots and mouthfuls of worms. The people in the town may say 'Oh, he's not all there, you know,' but that's just their little joke (and sometimes, just to rub it in, they don't point to their heads as they say it); I don't mind. I've learned to live with my disability, and learned to live without other people, so it's no skin off my nose.

My father seemed to be trying to hurt me, though; he wouldn't say something like that normally. The news about Eric must have shaken him. I think he knew, just as I did, that Eric would get back, and he was worried about what would happen. I didn't blame him, and I didn't doubt that he was also worried about me. I represent a crime, and if Eric was to come back stirring things up The Truth About Frank might come out.

I was never registered. I have no birth certificate, no National Insurance number, nothing to say I'm alive or have ever existed. I know this is a crime, and so does my father, and I think that sometimes he regrets the decision he made seventeen years ago, in his hippy-anarchist days, or whatever they were.

Not that I've suffered, really. I enjoyed it, and you could hardly say that I wasn't educated. I probably know more about the conventional school subjects than most people of my age. I could complain about the truth of some of the bits of information my father passed on to me, mind you. Ever since I was able to go into Porteneil alone and check things up in the library my father has had to be pretty straight with me, but when I was younger he used to fool me time after time, answering my honest if naïve questions with utter rubbish. For years I believed Pathos was one of the Three Musketeers, Fellatio was a character in Hamlet, Vitreous a town in China, and that the Irish peasants had to tread the peat to make Guinness.

Well, these days I can reach the highest shelves of the house library, and walk into Porteneil to visit the one there, so I can check up on anything my father says, and he has to tell me the truth. It annoys him a lot, I think, but that's the way things go. Call it progress.

But I am educated. While he wasn't able to resist indulging his rather immature sense of humour by selling me a few dummies, my father couldn't abide a son of his not being a credit to him in some way; my body was a forlorn hope for any improvement, so only my mind was left. Hence all my lessons. My father is an educated man, and he passed a lot of what he already knew on to me, as well as doing a fair bit of study himself into areas he didn't know all that much about just so that he could teach me. My father is a doctor of chemistry, or perhaps biochemistry — I'm not sure. He seems to have known enough about ordinary medicine — and perhaps still have had the contacts within the profession — to make sure that I got my inoculations and injections at the correct times in my life, despite my official non-existence as far as the National Health Service is concerned.

I think my father used to work in a university for a few years after he graduated, and he might have invented something; he occasionally hints that he gets some sort of royalty from a patent or something, but I suspect the old hippy survives on whatever family wealth the Cauldhames still have secreted away.

The family has been in this part of Scotland for about two hundred years or more, from what I can gather, and we used to own a lot of the land around here. Now all we have is the island, and that's pretty small, and hardly even an island at low tide. The only other remnant of our glorious past is the name of Porteneil's hot-spot, a grubby old pub called the Cauldhame Arms where I go sometimes now, though still under age of course, and watch some of the local youths trying to be punk bands. That was where I met and still meet the only person I'd call a friend; Jamie the dwarf, whom I let sit on my shoulders so he can see the bands.

'Well, I don't think he'll get this far. They'll pick him up,' my father said again, after a long and brooding silence. He got up to rinse his glass. I hummed to myself, something I always used to do when I wanted to smile or laugh, but thought the better of it. My father looked at me. 'I'm going to the study. Don't forget to lock up, all right?'

'Okey-doke,' I said, nodding.

'Goodnight.'

My father left the kitchen. I sat and looked at my trowel, Stoutstroke. Little grains of dry sand stuck to it, so I brushed them off. The study. One of my few remaining unsatisfied ambitions is to get into the old man's study. The cellar I have at least seen, and been in occasionally; I know all the rooms on the ground floor and the second; the loft is my domain entirely and home of the Wasp Factory, no less; but that one room on the first floor I don't know, I have never even seen inside.

I do know he has some chemicals in there, and I suppose he does experiments or something, but what the room looks like, what he actually does in there, I have no idea. All I've ever got out of it are a few funny smells and the tap-tap of my father's stick.

I stroked the long handle of the trowel, wondering if my father had a name for that stick of his. I doubted it. He doesn't attach the same importance to them as I do. I know they are important.

I think there is a secret in the study. He had hinted as much more than once, just vaguely, just enough to entice me so that I want to ask what, so that he knows that I want to ask. I don't ask, of course, because I wouldn't get any worthwhile answer. If he did tell me anything it would be a pack of lies, because obviously the secret wouldn't be a secret any more if he told me the truth, and he can feel, as I do, that with my increasing maturity he needs all the holds over me he can get; I'm not a child any more. Only these little bits of bogus power enable him to think he is in control of what he sees as the correct father-son relationship. It's pathetic really, but with his little games and his secrets and his hurtful remarks he tries to keep his security intact.

I leaned back in the wooden chair and stretched. I like the smell of the kitchen. The food, and the mud on our wellingtons, and sometimes the faint tang of cordite coming up from the cellar all give me a good, tight, thrilling feel when I think about them. It smells different when it's been raining and our clothes are wet. In the winter the big black stove pumps out heat fragrant with driftwood or peat, and everything steams and the rain hammers against the glass. Then it has a comfortable, closed-in feeling, making you feel cosy, like a great big cat with its tail curled round itself. Sometimes I wish we had a cat. All I've ever had was a head, and that the seagulls took.

I went to the toilet, down the corridor off the kitchen, for a crap. I didn't need a pee because I'd been pissing on the Poles during the day, infecting them with my scent and power.

I sat there and thought about Eric, to whom such an unpleasant thing happened. Poor twisted bugger. I wondered, as I have often wondered, how I would have coped. But it didn't happen to me. I have stayed here and Eric was the one who went away and it all happened somewhere else, and that's all there is to it. I'm me and here's here.

I listened, wondering if I could hear my father. Perhaps he had gone straight to bed. He often sleeps in the study rather than in the big bedroom on the second floor, where mine is. Maybe that room holds too many unpleasant (or pleasant) memories for him. Either way, I couldn't hear any snoring.

I hate having to sit down in the toilet all the time. With my unfortunate disability I usually have to, as though I was a bloody woman, but I hate it. Sometimes in the Cauldhame Arms I stand up at the urinal, but most of it ends up running down my hands or legs.

I strained. Plop splash. Some water came up and hit my bum, and that was when the phone went.

'Shit,' I said, and then laughed at myself. I cleaned my arse quickly and pulled my trousers up, pulling the chain, too, and then waddling out into the corridor, zipping up. I ran up the broad stairs to the first-floor landing, where our only phone is. I'm forever on at my father to get more phones put in, but he says we don't get called often enough to warrant extensions. I got to the phone before whoever was calling rang off. My father hadn't appeared.

'Hello,' I said. It was a call-box.

'Skraw-aak!' screamed a voice at the other end. I held the receiver away from my ear and looked at it, scowling. Tinny yells continued to come from the earpiece. When they stopped I put my ear back to it.

'Porteneil 531,' I said coldly.

'Frank! Frank! It's me. Me! Hello there! Hello!'

'Is there an echo on this line or are you saying everything twice?' I said. I could recognise Eric's voice.

'Both! Ha ha ha ha ha!'

'Hello, Eric. Where are you?'

'Here! Where are you?'

'Here.'

'If we're both here, why are we bothering with the phone?'

'Tell me where you are before your money runs out.'

'But if you're here you must know. Don't you know where you are?' He started to giggle.

I said calmly: 'Stop being silly, Eric.'

'I'm not being silly. I'm not telling you where I am; you'll only tell Angus and he'll tell the police and they'll take me back to the fucking hospital.'

'Don't use four-letter words. You know I don't like them. Of course I won't tell Dad.'

'"Fucking" is not a four-letter word. It's...it's a seven-letter word. Isn't that your lucky number?'

'No. Look, will you tell me where you are? I want to know.'

'I'll tell you where I am if you'll tell me what your lucky number is.'

'My lucky number is e.'

'That's
not a number. That's a letter.'

'It is a number. It's a transcendental number: 2.718 —'

'That's cheating. I meant an integer.'

'You should have been more specific,' I said, then sighed as the pips sounded and Eric eventually put more money in. 'Do you want me to call you back?'

'Ho-ho. You aren't getting it out of me that easy. How are you, anyway?'

'I'm fine. How are you?'

'Mad, of course,' he said, quite indignantly. I had to smile.

'Look, I'm assuming you're coming back here. If you are, please don't burn any dogs or anything, OK?'

'What are you talking about? It's me. Eric. I don't burn dogs!' He started to shout. 'I don't burn fucking dogs! What the hell do you think I am? Don't accuse me of burning fucking dogs, you little bastard! Bastard!'

'All right, Eric, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' I said as quickly as I could. 'I just want you to be OK; be careful. Don't do anything to antagonise people, you know? People can be awful sensitive....'

'Well...,' I could hear him say. I listened to him breathing, then his voice changed. 'Yeah, I'm coming back home. Just for a short while, to see how you both are. I suppose it's just you and the old man?'

'Yes, just the two of us. I'm looking forward to seeing you.'

'Oh, good.' There was a pause. 'Why don't you ever come to visit me?'

'I...I thought Father was down to see you at Christmas.'

'Was he? Well...but why don't you ever come?' He sounded plaintive. I shifted my weight on to my other foot, looked around the landing and up the stairs, half-expecting to see my father leaning over the banister rail, or to see his shadow on the wall of the landing above, where he thought he could hide and listen to my phone calls without me knowing.

'I don't like leaving the island for that long, Eric. I'm sorry, but I get this horrible feeling in my stomach, as though there's a great big knot in it. I just can't go that far away, not overnight or...I just can't. I want to see you, but you're so far away.'

'I'm getting closer.' He sounded confident again.

'Good. How far away are you?'

'Not telling you.'

'I told you my lucky number.'

'I lied. I'm still not going to tell you where I am.'

'That's not —'

'Well, I'll hang up now.'

'You don't want to talk to Dad?'

'Not yet. I'll talk to him later, when I'm a lot closer. I'm going now. See you. Take care.'

'You take care.'

'What's to worry about? I'll be all right. What can happen to me?'

'Just don't do anything to annoy people. You know; I mean, they get angry. About pets especially. I mean, I'm not —'

'What? What? What was that about pets?' he shouted.

'Nothing! I was just saying —'

'You little shit!' he screamed. 'You're accusing me of burning dogs again, aren't you? And I suppose I stick worms and maggots into kids' mouths and piss on them, too, eh?' he shrieked.

'Well,' I said carefully, toying with the flex, 'now you mention it —'

'Bastard! Bastard! You little shit! I'll kill you! You —' His voice disappeared, and I had to put the phone away from my ear again as he started to hammer the handset against the walls of the call-box. The succession of loud clunks sounded over the calm pips as his money ran out. I put the phone back in the cradle.

I looked up, but there was still no sign of Father. I crept up the stairs and stuck my head between the banisters, but the landing was empty. I sighed and sat down on the stairs. I got the feeling I hadn't handled Eric very well over the phone, I'm not very good with people and, even though Eric is my brother, I haven't seen him for over two years, since he went crazy.

I got up and went back down to the kitchen to lock up and get my gear, then I went to the bathroom. I decided to watch the television in my room, or listen to the radio, and get to sleep early so I could be up just after dawn to catch a wasp for the Factory.

I lay on my bed listening to John Peel on the radio and the noise of the wind round the house and the surf on the beach. Beneath my bed my home-brew gave off a yeasty smell.

I thought again of the Sacrifice Poles; more deliberately this time, picturing each one in turn, remembering their positions and their components, seeing in my mind what those sightless eyes looked out to, and flicking through each view like a security guard changing cameras on a monitor screen. I felt nothing amiss; all seemed well. My dead sentries, those extensions of me which came under my power through the simple but ultimate surrender of death, sensed nothing to harm me or the island.

I opened my eyes and put the bedside light back on. I looked at myself in the mirror on the dressing-table over on the other side of the room. I was lying on top of the bed-covers, naked apart from my underpants.

I'm too fat. It isn't that bad, and it isn't my fault — but, all the same, I don't look the way I'd like to look. Chubby, that's me. Strong and fit, but still too plump. I want to look dark and menacing; the way I ought to look, the way I should look, the way I might have looked if I hadn't had my little accident. Looking at me, you'd never guess I'd killed three people. It isn't fair.

I switched the light out again. The room was totally dark, not even the starlight showing while my eyes adjusted. Perhaps I would ask for one of those LED alarm radios, though I'm very fond of my old brass alarm clock. Once I tied a wasp to the striking-surface of each of the copper-coloured bells on the top, where the little hammer would hit them in the morning when the alarm went off.

I always wake up before the alarm goes, so I got to watch.

Copyright © 1984 by Iain Banks

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The Wasp Factory 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
NJMetal More than 1 year ago
I read The Wasp Factory because somewhere someone had named it one of the most disgusting books ever written (on par with Stokoe's "Cows"). Additionally, Britian's The Independent, named it one of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century. In my opinion it never reached either of those lofty expectations but it was still a good read. The Wasp Factory is the story of a late teen-aged boy living a fairly solitary existence on a private island in Scotland. The story slowly reveals the plot section by section and always keeps you guessing as to just where the story is going. The characters story and backstory are intriguing enough to keep pulling you along. Ultimitatly you are pulled right into one of those suprise twist endings. There is a lot of hype for this book, the author Iain Banks, debust novel that's still touted to this day. It is a fine book to be sure. For me the hype doesn't live up and can indeed danger the reputation of a fine story. However, Mr. Banks now has a long and distinguished writing career in both dramatic fiction and science fiction genres. There is no doubt he can write. Take this for what it is, a solid debut novel by a now well established writer.
EMcCarthy More than 1 year ago
Few stories are capable of hooking a reader within the first few pages, and "The Wasp Factory" does so with its enigmatic promises of showing the reader the internal lives of its sociopathic characters. Further into the book, the reader is treated to scenes with imagery as pregnant and startling as those found in such works as Heller's "Catch-22" and McCarthy's "The Road." Unfortunately, Banks seems to find himself at a loss when it comes to bringing his story to an end, and the denouement is so very anti-climactic, this reader wishes the author ended the piece some five pages earlier. However, Banks is a very talented writer, and he has a gift with prose. I look forward to reading more of his work.
Janus More than 1 year ago
I have come across numerous lists that have categorized 'The Wasp Factory' as one of the most disturbing, important and best novels in the past twenty years. I must say that I disagree. While it is an enjoyable book, it doesn't seem nearly as powerful and disturbing as it probably did in the 80's. One reviewer said that 'The Wasp Factory' gave a chilling glimpse into the mind of a sociopath. 'The Killer Inside of Me' is much better in my opinion. Ultimately, I would say read it if you have really been wanting to. If you are on fence as to whether you want to buy it or not, flip a coin.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read. It keeps you on the edge of your seat not because it is a thriller but because how wierd the stroy is. It is a story that is very inventive, though the ending could have been a better
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this outstanding book. Iain Banks is inspired and this novel really grips the reader and makes you question your own psyche. Thoroughly recommend
Guest More than 1 year ago
Though I couldnt help turning the pages to find out what this 'wasp factory' might actually be, I felt slightly patronised by the author's deliberate holding back of any details in order to spur me on. With regards to the ending, I feel it did little to explain our character's murderous tendencies. For a really shocking read on the turmoils of a homicidal, isolated adolescent, I heartily recommend And The As* Saw The Angel, by Nick Cave, a book far superior in many ways to Ian Banks' Novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I adored this book, and couldn't keep from the turning the pages even as my stomach churned. I'd totally recommend this to any friend who has an equally dark sense of humour.
mathrocks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Frank Cauldhame is a troubled teenager leading an isolated like on an island with his father. He is, in fact, *very* troubled. He loves torturing animals, including decapitating mice, birds, wasps, etc. He is highly adept at making home made bombs, and revels in building miniature dams and models of villages downstream, and then blowing up the dams to flood the villages and kill their (imaginary) inhabitants. His father is very controlling, and also distant. And, as we learn, Frank has committed three cold-blooded murders as a child without being caught; having carried out these murders at the tender ages of six, eight, and nine, killing children who are his relatives. But, as Frank repeatedly assures us in this first person narrative, he is sane. It is his older brother, Eric, who likes to set dogs on fire and feed maggots and worms to children who is actually insane. And, now Eric has escaped from the mental institution and is on his way back home.Frank does have some extenuating circumstances. He has been home schooled by his domineering and eccentric father, educated in a in-depth fashion but with some obvious gaps in his development. His father never registered his birth, and so Frank has no official governmental recognition of his existence; his fear of being found by the government is part of what keeps him on the island. Finally, Frank has a genital mutilation that has maimed him seriously: one wonders how this has affected his development.All this might seem disturbing or off putting, but Frank narrates everything with an engaging and buoyant voice; in fact, you tend to agree him that maybe he is sane. He has a real enthusiasm for life, and real talents for things like manufacturing bombs. Even his murders seem like a distant past thing, and he writes "It [murdering] was just a stage I was going through."Many mysteries remain as you read. What is hidden in the study his father so carefully keeps locked? Why is there a huge amount of cordite in the basement of the house? (Frank is unable to reach it and cannot use it for his bomb making, however.) Why triggered Eric's insanity? And what will happen when he arrives home? It is clear through out the book that the story is heading towards a climatic event, but the nature of the event cannot be explained here. Of course, one expects it to be dramatic and unexpected, but the ending is unexpected in a completely different way than one expects. Certainly, the book is filled with clues foreshadowing the final revelations, but I personally completely missed them.At times the book rises to social satire. There is a short rant against the insanity of politicians and financial leaders, that was probably meant as an echo from the sixties but seems very relevant to present times. Likewise, when evaluating Frank's sanity, one might reflect that his energy, his mechanical abilities at bomb making, and his pleasure in destruction might make him a valued member of society, for instance, an ideal member of an elite tactical fighting force. The bar scenes and drinking scenes, not to mention the way Frank is raised, are clear indictments of the way society treats young adults and denies them opportunities, or on second thought, perhaps indictments of the way young people fritter away their lives. (It makes one think of today's high unemployment rates for young adults.) Finally, Frank's misogyny is a caricature of stereotypes about women's roles, presumably as reflected in TV shows.The book was not as shocking as I expected from the reviews on the book jacket. In real life, Frank would be a sick and monstrous person; in the book he comes off as relatively pleasant. Many other reviewers have mentioned the shocking nature of the the event of "What happened to Eric" that drove Eric insane. But even this is milder than expected. Nor is it an implausible event. In fact, a similar event happened to a close friend of mine in college while he was working in a hospital
RBeffa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a twisted and fairly disturbing story. Banks is a good writer, I'll give him that. I would not normally be sympathetic to a murdering psycho. I'll try and stick to Banks's science fiction in the future I think.
Piratenin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book and found it fascinating. However, there were points that I felt could have been better handled. The ending in particular, while surprising and interesting, seemed rushed. The reaction of Frank Cauldhame was far too composed and seemed to me to be completely unrealistic. I also thought the event that caused Eric to go insane, while gruesome, not really something that could cause such a reaction. I was expected something far more psycologically damaging than discovering that doctor's have poor aseptic technique and the consequences of such. At the same time, the way the book treats mystery that Frank encounters and, for want of a better term, his religious fervour is brilliant. Despite the horrendous nature of Frank, I never wanted to stop reading, it was intriguing and I wanted to know what he was going to do and what he was going to discover.
esilke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I kept searching throughout for the point of this novel, and I think there's a discord between what the author was trying to do and what he actually accomplished.For most of the book, I thought it was mainly a study in religiousness and/or religiosity ¿ the insularity (literally being set on an island) of the ritualistic mindset, the fear, anger and vengeance involved, and the various power relations explored through Frank's misogyny and his quest for dominance over people and nature (viz. the killings).And certainly sexuality (repressed, disfigured, etc.) is examined, but its primacy at the end of the novel seems to jar. The fact that the novel had been working up to this unusual and surprising conclusion is plain to see in retrospect, but if it (i.e. gender) was intended to be the main theme of the novel then it was ill-explored. And I'm not certain what to make of the section at the end where the narrator tries to explain the significance of the tale to us in these terms: is it a lack of confidence to let the text speak for itself?I think the grisliness of the book is a little exaggerated by the people who talk about it. There is one image (that of Eric's discovery in relation to the baby) which I found truly gruesome. A very interesting book, nevertheless, capable ¿ and probably deserving ¿ of more analysis than this.
apatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What was shocking in 1984 (the year, not the Orwell book) when the novel was published does not seem so shocking now. The Wasp Factory is the second Iain Banks book I read, the first one being *Consider Phlebas* (with an M for his middle name). I personally prefer ¿Phlebas¿ as sf/f is more my cup of tea. That said The Wasp Factory is far from a conventional mainstream book and rather gothic. I find the murder scenes very creative and the twist in the end is quite startling. However, I find some of the chapters are a little dull with the protagonist roaming around, hanging out with his dwarf, getting drunk etc.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about a seriously messed up teenager. Messed up for reasons that become clear as you read. Not really my cup of tea, though as a first novel it's the sort that gets the author noticed. My copy had all the bad reviews printed on the back cover, interspersed with the good ones. I tended to agree with the negative reviewers, who used words like 'nasty' rather a lot. A pretty good word under the circumstances! Not the sort of novel that does anything to enrich your life.
DeltaQueen50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written in the first person singular, The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks tells the story of Frank, who lives with his father on a small island in Scotland. You quickly come to realize that Frank is a deeply disturbed young person, and as he continues telling his story of murder, sacrifice poles, and the Wasp Factory, a strange device that he uses to predict the future, you eventually realize Frank could very well be a true monster.Of course, his brother Eric has just escaped from the Mental Hospital and is making his way home, and with his habits of burning dogs and feeding maggots to children, perhaps he is also a human monster. And what is the deal with Frank¿s father, holding so many secrets, he is definitely not all there as well.As the book develops, you eventually come to realize that this is the story of an extremely strange family, and none is stranger than the father, and yes, he truly is the monster. The way he raised both of his children, especially Frank was cruel, unusual, and depraved.This is a book that certainly isn¿t for everyone, in fact, I would recommend that the faint of heart avoid it. There are many scenes of extreme violence towards animals. I am not sure exactly what I will take, if anything, from this gruesome book. The author seemed to be touching on a few themes such as religion and the use (or abuse) of power. All in all, I wonder if the author meant this to stand as a actual story, or was leaning toward this being a fantasy, nightmare piece. All I know that I couldn¿t stop reading it, and that it will linger on in my mind for some time.
TonyaJ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book chilled my spine; psychosis at its very worst and yet beautifully and harrowingly presented. If you enjoy the macabre and great writing, this book is for you.
brettjames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Phew. Not for the faint-hearted, and perhaps not bad enough for the rest. A good read that doesn't pays off in the end, which is always nice.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a brilliantly written novel that is inexplicably irresistable. It is also noxious and one of the most horrifying and chilling books that I have ever read. If I had read all of Freud's work I am sure I would still not understand the deep meanings of the images in Iain Banks weird novel.The unconventional anti-hero at the center of the novel is Frank Cauldhame who narrates a story of obsession and macabre behavior. This is one delinquent whose creepy charm has very limited appeal. His imagination defies description and I can only recommend this book with a warning that it is not for the faint of heart.
wflooter480 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A cold and disturbing first person narrative about a 17 year old boy, his psychotic brother and seemingly deranged father. I liked it in a very disgusted way. After reading the book I felt like I still didn't quite understand the the character's motives, but I felt like that was the point.
roninc30 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very odd book. Recommended by Craig Parker as one of his favorites (?). Enjoyable, but a bit chilling.
lacklustre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm still not absolutely sure how I feel about this novel. I found I couldnt put the book down but wondered how necessary some of the violence was to the story or if the acts of violence were the only story. The book seemed quite comical to me but I'm not sure if that is a correct reading. The phonecalls between Frank and Eric were hilarious. I found the ending a suprise but very unbelievable. The book would have stood up better for me without it.
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow - this was disturbing. For such a slender book it took me a long time to read. I would read through one section and have to let it percolate for a while before I could move on. I found it extremely well-written, gripping and thought-provoking. They say that about a lot of books, but this one truly made me sit and think about what had just happened.(spoilers ahead!)My one complaint about the book (spoilers ahead) is that I found the final secret to be pretty unbelievable. Even though he had been taking male hormones, even though he was told his genitals had been mutilated, I find it completely unbelievable that he could have not noticed that he had a vagina. At some point - in the shower, in the sort of basic exploratory stuff that kids do, he would have found an opening that shouldn't be there. Still, I am willing to give it a bit of suspension of disbelief because it was such an interesting book.
dreamless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Starring an unlikable main character who never quite gets out of himself, Banks's book has the thought processes of cruel adolescence down pat but doesn't leaven them with anything. Or something; it didn't quite grab me.
astroantiquity on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I hated this book when I first read it, but after careful rereading, I noticed its nuanced writing and the malevolence of the main character. This book is not for leisurely reading.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do not, as I did, read the last page of the book first...that is where the surprise is. This book did have an engaging plot but somehow the characters ended up as deeply unbelievable. Worth reading, but not worthy of the substantial praise that has been heeped upon it.
ragwaine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very Original, Imaginative, easy to read style, daring.