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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on August 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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on 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. Both novels are in the first-person of someone who is supposedly less than sane, thus offering very graphic yet flatly related and highly descriptive scenes (that naturally wind up shocking us). Both novels offer murdering narrators who share a similar, obsessive style of carrying out their days. (In both books there are scenes of what is pure routine to the narrator--routine but important). In both narrators there is a clear hatred of another people--most notably women. When you read Frank Caulderhame, you can notice the elements that Ellis liked and worked with in Patrick Bateman.
Nevertheless, this is a very fine debut for Banks. It was probably much more shocking back in 1984, but today it retains a distinct voice and all of its scares. Banks has the reader look where most people don't ever want to look, and that's always important and noteworthy if not to everyone's tastes.
Highly recommended modern novel,especially if you like bizarre tales, are an Ellis or American Psycho fan certainly, or just want what has been called one of the "Top 100 Novels of the Century". Believe it.
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on October 26, 2001
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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on September 9, 2013
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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on 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. He's very fond of general destruction and killing - so far, he's dispatched two cousins, one brother and various animals. (He's yet to be caught out). He is also very inventive and has essentially created his own belief system - involving a Wasp Factory, some Sacrifice Poles and the Bunker (a pillbox on the beach, a relic from the Second World War). He also has his own name for various parts of the island, depending on what he's done there - for example, the Snake Park, Black Destroyer Hill and the Bomb Circle.

The events of "The Wasp Factory" take place over a couple of days - beginning with the news that Eric, Frank's half-brother, has escaped form hospital. (Eric was committed several years earlier, for setting dogs on fire). The book sees Frank looking back over hsi life, in the build-up to Eric's expected return. This isn't something that causes Frank any great amount of stress, despite the fact that Eric clearly still isn't firing on all thrusters. (Frank's is more than a match for his brother : the worrying this is that he sees himself as being the "somebody sane who still likes" Eric.) Unsurprisingly, the book can be a little gruesome at times and it isn't one I'd recommend if you're feeling a little queasy. However, if you're feeling up to a challenge, it's certainly well worth reading !
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on January 25, 2002
This book begins like many horror novels. It's a confessional by a teenage boy about murders he committed as a young child. Frank Cauldhame describes his crimes in detail amid explanations for his own apparent psychosis and that of his older brother Eric, who has escaped from a mental hospital. Frank also describes the bizarre liturgy that he devised using carcasses of small animals to project himself off the island where he lives and into the heads of other people, including his brother. There isn't a normal person in his family. His unmarried father is an obsessive/compulsive physician and his absent mother a motor-biking flower child. Early on he proclaims his worst enemies to be "...Women and the Sea. These things I hate. Women because they are weak and stupid and live in the shadow of men and are nothing compared to them, and the Sea because it has always frustrated me...." Several women and men are introduced throughout the novel with appropriate gender commentary on all. Though a page-turner, the novel's ending is a let-down, almost anticlimatic after the grisly descriptions in earlier chapters. It's worth reading, though, and thoroughly chilling.
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on August 14, 2001
Every good book can be defined within the perimeters of three categories - a major classic (example The Old Man and The Sea), a minor classic (example - On The Road) and just a good book. I will put this book in the third category. This does not mean I am trying to say its poorly written or anything like that - I just want to mention the fact that it's a good book but not a classic. When I was comparing this book with "Catcher in the Rye" - there are certain marked similarities between the characters of Holden and Frank (the main character of this book) - this similarity may just have been a coincidence but still this fact cannot be overlooked. Iain Banks has brilliant grip over the prose and brilliant narrative capacities. So while reading the book you will enjoy immensely. I feel once you start it - it's hard to stop till you have finished. The book deals with the adolescent agonies of a teenager - battered between the egos and whims of his family. Its deals with the dream world of this kid who tries to give expression to his own world through various rituals, acts of brutality and destructiveness but cannot find an answer to the mysteries which keep on teasing him from his childhood. Sometimes he finds solace in vengeance and sometimes acts of pure dream but he is never stupid. The acts of violence in this book never seem to be real - at least to me, non the less they are quite innovative. There is a final twist but that is also not quite realistic like the twists of O' Henry and Saki. I feel the twist he has used in the final chapter could have only served the purpose in a short story but not a novel. Finally the plot of the story (in my opinion) is not worthy of a novel - rather a short story would have been better. So after all these you may have the question why I gave it four stars - well it's a real nice book to read - some of portions are hilarious.
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on June 23, 2001
The reader might note that, as I enter the fray with my own comments about this controversial novel, there are, below mine, 77 other reviews posted. All of this for a book that many people have never heard of -- one that has obviously stirred radically conflicting feelings and opinions amongst its readers, and which has been both lauded as genius and derided as drivel by its critics. The same could be said of many works that have retained their character and individuality -- and their ability to stir controversy -- for many years after they first appeared.
To state the inescapable conclusion: this book is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. That being said, I think it's also safe to say that, once read, it will never be forgotten.
Iain Banks has produced here, like it or not (and there are few opinions that inhabit the no-man's land between these two extremes), a little masterpiece of psychological horror, and a pretty compellingly-told mystery as well. Even if, as some reviewers maintain, the ending is not a surprise, this novel is still a firghtening, vivid read -- a look into a mind that is twisted (from within and without) to the breaking point, with hell to pay for almost everyone in the general vicinity of the young Frank Cauldhame, Banks' unforgettable protagonist with the very appropriate surname.
Take Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES, Burgess' A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, McGrath's SPIDER, Russell Banks' RULE OF THE BONE -- and any other well-written portrait of alienated and abused youth, and you might have the beginnings of Iain Banks' disturbingly maladjusted Frank, playing out his fantasies of just deserts in his head and in his world. There is unimaginable cruelty at work here -- on and by the youngster at the center of this literary maelstrom. The pace of the story is never rushed, but the reader is incresingly unable to put the book down as it travels unflinchingly to its climax.
Love it or leave it -- it will return to haunt you again and again.
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on January 30, 2001
After reading an excerpt of Wasp Factory in an anthology, I was pretty excited to buy the book and find out what else it had in store. Although at times it was compelling in terms of painting a scenario, there was something two dimensional about the main character/narrator. Banks seemed to not have a fully realized sense of this narrator, hiding that fact by bombarding us with the extremity of "his" circumstances and actions. Banks described the world of his character at times rather beautifully-- but ultimately that's just being artful and doesn't make the grade to being a truly developed novel. The real difficulty in writing a good novel is that it leaves us with a lasting sense of this fictional person/s. With this I felt like I was coldly observing someone's very dangerous choices (I know the narrator has that detached tone but as a reader I feel I shouldn't have that detachment), and some peripheral family dysfunction that becomes rather montonous. When the big bad secret comes out at the end I was bored and dissatisfied.
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on October 8, 2000
I have not read this book, but I will. My only reason for writng this is that this is supposedly an Ian M. Banks book.
As far as I know this is not an Ian M. Banks book, i.e. its a Ian Banks book.
This means it is a book written by the exact (I hope for his sake) same man, but written in a different tradition. Does that really matter, you may ask. Yes it should, because this is not a science fiction book! Banks write "normal" books under Ian Banks and science fiction under Ian M. Banks; just check the cover on the top of the Amazones page and you will seee that I am right - or the cover is wrong (whatever).
Ian Banks writes science fiction under the name Ian M. Banks. Thats well known. I was lucky enough to hear him talk about his books in Edinburgh a couple of months ago where he got a question about why he uses the M. He told us that it was his publisher who wanted him to use the M. to send a signal to readers that these books were different (science fiction). The M. he explained came from his grandfather who was a miner, and whos name was Banks Mingus, and who at some time had to flee the law. To be sure that he would not be found he switched the names and became Mingus Banks, so thats where the M comes from.
As I have to give it stars I will give it 5. If I am wrong, I will write a new review and recify it.
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