Mini review: The Wasp Factory / Iain Banks


Another case of being late to the party, reading-wise. Although, in my defence, The Wasp Factory was published in 1984.

Frank Cauldhame, sixteen years old, serial animal mutilator and multiple murderer, lives on a remote Scottish island with his incapacitated father. He has a ritualistic contraption in the attic, the eponymous ‘Wasp Factory’, and his brother, freshly escaped from a mental institution is on his way home.

I was completely unprepared for The Wasp Factory. It was a disturbing, gruesome read – and yet I kept turning the pages, for more than morbid curiosity. Frank’s worldview is perversely compelling, his reasoning ringing so true, a testament to Banks’ character building. It was mesmerising torture, and fucking frightening. How could a character that routinely maims and murders be so empathetic? There is a hint of the naïve about his voice, a child isolated from mainstream society – convinced of his impotence and damage, who relies on superstitious patterns for meaning. It is hard to comment on the ending without spoiling it. The conclusion is foreshadowed in brief glimpses, but it forms an identity-shattering realisation for Frank, one that would be implausible in another writer’s hands.

I am also completely entranced (and unsettled) at the prospect of The Wasp Factory reinterpreted in opera form, such as the production composed by Ben Frost. I can only hope to see it – somehow, someday – in the same serendipitous way I was able to see Woyzeck with the music of Tom Waits in 2016. The intersection of multi-disciplinary artforms based on literature is hugely inspiring – like Tessa Palmer‘s unnerving sculptural installation based on Banks’ first novel.

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