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The Wasp Factory [Paperback]

Iain M. Banks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 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.


A Gothic horror story of quite exceptional quality...macabre, bizarre and...quite impossible to put down—FINANCIAL TIMES

Read it if you dare.—DAILY Express

One of the most brilliant first novels I have come across.—DAILY TELEGRAPH

A brilliant book, barmy and barnacled with the grotesque.—New Statesman

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I HAD BEEN making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
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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4.0 out of 5 stars You are cooking them, aren't you ? May 9 2007
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume 'Iain M. Banks'.

Frank Cauldhame is sixteen yeras old and hasn't quite had what you'd call a typical upbringing. In fact, he doesn't officially exist : Frank was never registered, has no birth certificate, no passport and no national insurance number. The upside is that, as a result, he's never had to attend school - though he was educated at home by his father. (Angus, Frank's father, did occasionally embellish parts of the curriculem - for example, Frank believed for a time that there was a character called Fellatio in "Hamlet"). Angus is a scientist : the discipline is never clearly identified, though he does appear to be involved in the biomedical sector. These connections have also apparently allowed Angus to provide for Frank's medical needs - despite his son's official non-existance. (These needs were increased at an early age, following a devastating encounter with a dog). Angus' study is strcitly off-limits to Frank and is permanently locked - though Frank is determined to make it inside someday.

The pair are pretty comfortable, whatever it is Angus does for a living. They live on a small island, just off the coast of Portneil in Scotland. Frank never knew his mother, Angus' second wife, as she left shortly after he was born. (Apparently, she didn't care much for children). It's probably lucky for her that she didn't stick around : Frank has turned into a very strange kid whose values and beliefs don't really overlap with those held by 'normal' society.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, disturbing debut by Banks March 26 2002
The jacket of the book alone--which is reprinted by Amazon here--was enough to get me to pick this novel up. A teenage boy who once went through "a phase" of murdering others gives us a peek into his mind in this incredible debut by Scotsman Banks.
The narrator, Frank, is not your average teenager. Not by a long shot. There doesn't seem to be a normal person in his entire family--or what's left of it. An obsessive father with more than his share of issues, an insane brother who has escaped and is returning home, a multitude of bizarre aunts and uncles, a flaky, irresponsible mother, oh, and a brother and two cousins that he killed.
Frank describes the murders in great detail, and also gives us a serious justification for them, all the while mentioning his sanity like it's a given fact. But compared with what is around him, Frank is far from the worst. Isolated on a small island connected to a town via bridge, Frank doesn't officially exist on record. The island is his hunting ground, and he has grown into a large child, complete with even more elaborate games and rituals he can play and perform alone.
It's difficult and perhaps unnecessary to note the lengthy plot, because this is a page turner, though it doesn't present itself as such right away. This is a careful novel that takes it time and reveals it's secrets at an excellent pace. And it has quite a few surprises for the reader.
Personally, I found this novel to be a tremendous influence on Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. I can't recall from the interviews I've read from him, but Ellis must have read this book and read it well before or during his crafting of American Psycho.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars very disappointing
Banks is an engaging author, probably a very good author (this my first of his books), but this book is terribly disappointing. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Anglobotomy
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly enjoyable read
Delivery was fast and the book itself was really enjoyable, original and engaging.
Published 1 month ago by Trevor Strathdee
5.0 out of 5 stars (Eventually) Brilliant
I never heard of Iain Banks until I moved to Scotland. In Scotland, several people recommended I read him. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Troy Parfitt
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
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
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. 20 2002 by Bryan W. Akers
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