Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

If you were hoping for a manual on industrial buildings mass producing hymenopteran insects, then I’m afraid you will be disappointed. If you were looking for a novel which unrelentlessly grips you from page one, leaving you buzzing even long after you’ve finished, then please step up and enter-if you can bear it-the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen and unconventional to say the least (Note: apparently I'm pretentious today).

Top Five Things About The Wasp Factory The Book, (not “The Wasp Factory”, the factory) (or “The Wasp, Factory” about a young wasp named Factory):

1.The Shock Factor

The first and last thing you will always hear about The Wasp Factory is the spectacular way it offends, nauseates and unsettles the reader. With fiction like this, it’s helpful to think of the clichéd rollercoaster analogy. You simply have to accept it for what it is trying to do, because only then can you appreciate the ride; resist and you end up angry, sick and completely oblivious to the purpose of such an activity. Make no mistake-graphic animal abuse, child murder and a series of twists unlike any that you are unlikely to ever encounter again mean that this is no Space Mountain. It’s only once you dare to enter the world of sixteen year old, serial murderer Frank, and embrace it’s every facet, that you can really recognise the scope, creativity and originality of this novel.

2.The Hypnotization

Once you do enter the world of Frank, you’ll quickly find it difficult to leave. Even the blurb sold me.

“Two years after I killed Blyth, I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did my young cousin Esmeralda, 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.”

Enough said. Who wouldn’t want to find out why this sixteen year old was driven to murder? How he can be so nonchalant? How has he gotten away with it? How the murders were committed? Once the novel begins, we are faced with other questions. What drove Frank’s brother, Eric, insane? (Clue: you almost definitely won’t be able to guess). What is The Wasp Factory? Iain Banks unravels the mystery slowly and carefully, slapping the reader in the nose with a tremendous twist at the end.

3.I <3 Frank

Frank is a lot like the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, Alex. You don’t want to like him-you loathe the things that he does-but you just can’t help yourself. Frank is really nothing more than a bored, insecure and massively misinformed teenager, shaped by his label and fart obsessed father, absent mother, clinically insane brother and his own social isolation. His actions are in no way excusable, but we are pulled towards Frank, in spite of everything, because of his humanity and vulnerability. At one point lamenting “Looking at me, you’d never guessed I’d killed three people; it isn’t fair” Frank displays characteristics of the average teenager. His moods range from low self-confidence, to fantastic self-assurance. His brother Eric is crazy, most certainly-but he isn’t. Killing dogs for food is barbaric, but exploding rabbits with dynamite is a fine way to spend ones afternoon. Frank is a quintessentially flawed character-a cold sadistic killer, he is not, however much he would like to be. It is these insecurities and contradictions that drew me to Frank, and even (dare I say it) encouraged me to cheer him on. Just because he’s a psychotic murderer doesn’t mean you cant sympathise with him. I’m a strict vegetarian, yet I still think bacon smells amazing.

4.The Twist…

…is the very definition of a twist. One of those ones where you have to read the book a second time, to really allow the impact of the twist to sink in. A bit like Fight Club (which if you haven’t already seen, literally go and watch it NOW).

5.The Impact

Days after I finished the book, I was still thinking about it. The character of Frank, Eric’s traumatizing experiences, the grisly deaths of Paul, Blythe and Esmeralda, and the huge twist at the end...it's completely engrossing, in the same way that a car crash is-you want to look away, but find yourself unable to. This is a book that will stay with you. The attitude, tastes and tenacity of the individual reader decide whether this will be for better or for worse.


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