Book Review: The Wasp Factory

I am a big fan of Neil Cross and his brilliant, dark writing. It was through a comment on his Facebook page about being inspired by the Scottish author Iain Banks, now terminally ill, that I became interested in exploring his books.

“The Wasp Factory” was Banks’ breakthrough novel published in 1984. Like Neil Cross’ work this story is deceptively simple and it unfolds steadily, with an underlying feeling of unease.

Frank is a strange young man living in relative isolation on a Scottish island with his reclusive father. His life is filled with bizarre ritualised behaviours and his relationship with his dad is strained.

Slowly Frank’s story is revealed, each revelation more strange and baffling. Overlaid onto this scenario is Frank’s brother Eric who has escaped from a mental hospital and is heading home.

I find stories with a dark bent fascinating and satisfying. There is a darkness in all of us which we ignore or control or embrace or fear or some combination of these. Reading about dark characters or good people being embroiled in dark situations allows me to explore my own dark side safely.

What I particularly loved about “The Wasp Factory” is the ending. Throughout the novel there is a building sense of foreboding, of a threat on the horizon. You crave a climax to explain or at least relieve the build up yet there is none. Or at least a finale which sets up more questions than it answers.

How delicious to end a book with a need to know more. So often I read a book which is the literary equivalent of a slice of white bread; tasty enough but with nothing to remember it by. The test of a truly great book is how it stays with you, how the characters haunt you, how the story rolls about in the recesses of your mind.

This book does just that and I can’t wait to see what other dark offerings Iain Banks has in his extensive bibliography.

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