The Wasp Factory
Being a bit of a sci-fi book-worm, my dad has bookcase after book case of hard-backed classic (and obscure) sci-fi novels. As such Iain M. Banks was a staple of my formative bibliographical upbringing.
I have a little bit of a obsessiveness when it comes to series of things and so I read every single M. Banks novel in pretty much publication order. Iain (not M.) Banks never got a look in. So after the tragic loss of one of the UK’s greatest authors, meaning that I have read every M. novel that will ever exist, it seems morbidly appropriate to begin at the beginning of Banks’ non-sci-fi corpus.
The following may contain some mild spoilers so read ahead at your own risk.
The Wasp Factory is written from the perspective of pretty-fucked-up-16-year-old Frank who lives on a small island in Scotland with his slightly eccentric ex-hippie father. His older brother has been carted off to the loony-bin but throughout the book you’re left wondering whether Frank should be in a padded cell too. The story consists of to-ing and fro-ing between present (1970s) and history, gradually revealing the circumstances of some strange deaths associated with the island.
One of my favourite devices that Banks uses when writing in the third person is to always write it in the way that the character in-focus would write it, with appropriate colloquialisms and diction. Being written in the first person, unfortunately it doesn’t have this subtle charm and it lacks the diaristic tones of Feersum Endjinn to it which feels a little unnatural; although if we assume that Frank should be in a mental institution, perhaps the reader is Frank’s shrink?
The books is truly fantastic though. It has excellent pace, perfectly harrowing imagery, a enthralling conclusion and leaves you with a delicious literary after-taste in your brain afterwards as your brain processes the subtle elements laid out through the novel.
Read it. Read it thoroughly and quickly. Read it now.