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The Wasp Factory [Paperback]

Iain M. Banks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 19 2009

Frank, no ordinary sixteen-year-old, lives with his father outsIde a remote Scottish village. Their life is, to say the least, unconventional. Frank's mother abandoned them years ago: his elder brother Eric is confined to a psychiatric hospital; and his father measures out his eccentricities on an imperial scale. Frank has turned to strange acts of violence to vent his frustrations. In the bizarre daily rituals there is some solace. But when news comes of Eric's escape from the hospital Frank has to prepare the ground for his brother's inevitable return - an event that explodes the mysteries of the past and changes Frank utterly.

Iain Banks' celebrated first novel is a work of extraordinary originality, imagination and horrifying compulsion: horrifying, because it enters a mind whose realities are not our own, whose values of life and death are alien to our society; and compulsive, because the humour and compassion of that mind reach out to us all.

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"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."

Those lines begin one of the most infamous of contemporary Scottish novels. The narrator, Frank Cauldhame, is a weird teenager who lives on a tiny island connected to mainland Scotland by a bridge. He maintains grisly Sacrifice Poles to serve as his early warning system and deterrent against anyone who might invade his territory.

Few novelists have ever burst onto the literary scene with as much controversy as Iain Banks in 1984. The Wasp Factory was reviled by many reviewers on account of its violence and sadism, but applauded by others as a new and Scottish voice--that is, a departure from the English literary tradition. The controversy is a bit puzzling in retrospect, because there is little to object to in this novel, if you're familiar with genre horror.

The Wasp Factory is distinguished by an authentically felt and deftly written first-person style, delicious dark humor, a sense of the surreal, and a serious examination of the psyche of a childhood psychopath. Most readers will find that they sympathize with and even like Frank, despite his three murders (each of which is hilarious in an Edward Gorey fashion). It's a classic of contemporary horror. --Fiona Webster --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


One of the most brilliant first novels I have come across. DAILY TELEGRAPH Read it if you dare. DAILY Express A brilliant book, barmy and barnacled with the grotesque. New Statesman A Gothic horror story of quite exceptional quality...macabre, bizarre and...quite impossible to put down FINANCIAL TIMES

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars (Eventually) Brilliant Sept. 9 2013
By Troy Parfitt TOP 500 REVIEWER
I never heard of Iain Banks until I moved to Scotland. In Scotland, several people recommended I read him. Well, that and his name was often circulated with the likes of Ian Rankin, Walter Scott, Irvine Welsh, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. as one of the pillars of Scottish literature. The book I kept hearing about (as a starter) was The Wasp Factory, so I decided to start there. For a while, I didn't know what to make of it. The (fictional?) island the protagonist Frank lived on was not far from Edinburgh, so I had little trouble imagining the setting, but I found Frank's rituals (bombing things, burning things, killing animals, etc.) disturbing and boring. The comedic bits seemed to fail. I thought about giving the novel up. However, I kept going and realized the story was a bizarre work of genius. It's amazing the writer also kept going; certainly most would have thought, "No, this is too out there," and abandoned the project. What is The Wasp Factory about? It's difficult to say. Essentially, it's about Frank, a troubled young man whose father has not registered his birth and has schooled him at home. Frank is clever, but sinister. He is also insane. So is his brother Eric, who has been institutionalized. Madness, it seems, runs in the family. Frank admits to homicide (early in the novel; and the back-cover copy tells you this) and you wonder if Diggs, the local cop, will ever put together that Frank is a killer. Or is Diggs only concerned about Eric, who has escaped from the mental ward? Questions form and Banks artfully answers them, but not in ways the reader could predict. Once I realized there was method to Banks's madness, I got stuck into this read. It's well-written; hard to believe it was the author's first.

Unfortunately, while I was reading The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks died.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cobblers Aug. 3 2000
The reviews that are emblazoned across the opening pages of this book are both good and bad. The one constant in all of them, however, is the use of words such as "grotesque" and "sadistic". I can only help but think that printing all the reviews is a ploy by the publishers to intrigue would-be buyers into finding out just how depraved this book is. Of all the reviews on show, The Times is the most accurate when it describes this first novel from Scottish author Iain Banks as "rubbish".
The gist of the story is that Frank is a 16 year old boy living with his father on an otherwise uninhabited Scottish island. Frank is unusual in that he does not officially exist and has made a habit of killing other children in his recent past. Frank is obsessive about his island defences as well as his routines and of-course, his fascination with death. Added to the story are the unusual father, a mad older brother, a dwarf called Jamie, policeman Diggs and Mrs. Clamp. All are odd and all, except Diggs, are in the story to add a degree of non-normality. Mrs. Clamp, as far as I can tell is only present so that Frank can think about how easy it would be to lock her in the freezer.
The book is aimed to shock. At its release in 1984 it caused quite a stir. As one of the reviews notes, there is no label for this book. It is not a horror because the author makes light of any possible situation in a way that leaves the "horror factor" to a minimum . It is not a psychological novel because there is not enough depth to the issues of the mind. Instead the author goes somewhere between the two, leaving the reader with a confused piece of work that is too unbelievable to ever frighten and far too simple to make the reader think.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Instant debut classic Aug. 12 2009
WOW...that's basically how I can sum up this book. It was awesome and completely exceeded my expectations. I have this habbit of reading one star reviews of books before I buy them. Reason being, it tends to lower my expectations just a little bit. In the case of 'The Wasp Factoy' there were a lot of mixed feelings, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was definitely better than I had imagined. For this being Banks' first novel I have to say he hit it outta the park. The way he describes things in such vivid detail makes you feel like you are there on the island with this disfunctional (small) family. If I start going into detail about the plot I could go on for pages, not only that, it's hard to describe the plot without giving away the ridiculously smart and shocking ending. In a nutshell it's about a killer without a conscience and I find it to be a very beautiful novel and plan to read it again in the near future. If you like surprise endings then you will love this book. Pick it up, you won't regret it!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Twisted tale of making monsters Oct. 26 2001
By A Customer
I purchased this book based on how often it was recommended in the listmanias; I found this short novel both captivating and demented. The story is a first person narrative on a rather dysfunctional family located away from the general flow of humankind. The reader is presented with the thought processes and lifestyle of a sixteen year old murderer whose existence, beliefs and actions revolve around a childhood trauma; Banks does a fine, graphic, job of showing the results of that trauma. The story twists and turns, leaving you gaping at the end; the horror is in the believability that it exists. This is worth a reread just to see how Banks prepares the shocks and surprises. You'll definitely get the willies from this tale of madness.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Crass yet Captivating
I couldn't put it down, but I couldn't say that I loved it either. This is one of those rare books that finds a way to fascinate and disgust you at the same time. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2011 by Eternal Decree
4.0 out of 5 stars You are cooking them, aren't you ?
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. Read more
Published on May 9 2007 by Craobh Rua
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad I found it.
I came across this book by accident, finding it at work one night. In about four hours, I had the book read. I read it again the next morning. Read more
Published on June 9 2002 by Alan Papka
5.0 out of 5 stars banks best by far
one of the few books which can stand up to rereading. the black humour and twisted original plot are never equaled unfortunately in banks subsequent work. Read more
Published on May 10 2002 by simon gurney
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing...not for the faint of heart
This is the first book by Iain Banks and the only one I've read. It is graphically violent and disgustingly twisted. Read more
Published on March 30 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars CULT CLASSIC
This probably would have been better as a short story or novella - hence sometimes you feel like Banks is padding out as if this was an English assignment. Nevermind. Read more
Published on March 29 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, disturbing debut by Banks
The jacket of the book alone--which is reprinted by Amazon here--was enough to get me to pick this novel up. Read more
Published on March 26 2002 by N. P. Stathoulopoulos
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre study in gender relations
This book begins like many horror novels. It's a confessional by a teenage boy about murders he committed as a young child. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2002 by Anna Bates
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping yet somehow suble....
Out of my cardboard oatmeal box which I use to randomly draw the next title I will be reading, I luckily chose The Wasp Factory to be my next endeavor. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2002 by Bryan W. Akers
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant twisted mind!
A real look into a twisted mind, wonderfully truthful.
Published on Dec 28 2001 by Tracey Pals
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