adult, gothic, iain banks, the wasp factory

Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory – review

Author: Iain Banks
Publish Date: 16 February 1984
Genre: Horror, gothic
Audience: Adult fiction

3 stars


(N.B. This book deals with heavy and potentially upsetting issues such as animal torture and mental illness. Grotesque imagery is also used frequently – this is not for the fainthearted!)

‘The Wasp Factory’ was recommended to me by my English Literature teacher as part of my A2 coursework. At first, I had no idea how this novel could possibly relate to my chosen topic of masculinity, but I was pushed to wait for the end..and now it makes perfect sense.

Throughout my time reading ‘The Wasp Factory’, I was very unsure how I felt about it. In some places, the writing is spectacular; in others, it fails to deliver. Whilst the novel is a short read as it is, I believe it was heavily padded out with mundane descriptions of Frank’s daily activities which bared no real significance to the plot. This made it a difficult read to begin with as I was unsure on the importance of these details, but in the end they proved to be a waste of time, and an effort to trawl through. However, in the last twenty pages or so, Banks upped his writing game immensely, with gripping narrative and an extreme amount of tension.

Something else that made this novel a struggle to get through was my intense dislike towards the protagonist Frank. Having committed unforgettable crimes, whilst having a passion for torturing wasps and collecting animal corpses – he’s not the friendliest of people. As a reader who prefers characters they can relate with, this certainly (but fortunately!) didn’t resonate with me, and it was hard to feel any sympathy for Frank and his family. In addition to this, the violence and gore depicted so calmly by Frank honestly scared me a little; the peculiarity and horror of the situations did not seem to faze him in the slightest which made for a chilling experience. Although, I do suppose a novel which can cause that reaction from a reader must be commended for its atmosphere and disposition.

However, one thing that I did enjoy was my overall understanding of the novel once I had finished it. The ideas centring around sexuality and gender were extremely compelling, and some which I am excited to explore in my coursework. This was probably because I was analysing the novel in more detail than I would have done if this wasn’t for my A Level, but nevertheless it was an interesting insight into the world of masculinity. Therefore, for something I would not usually pick up, I was pleasantly surprised by the plot and theme as a whole.

It is a wonder I didn’t give ‘The Wasp Factory’ 2 stars after my generally negative review; however, in my opinion the ending deserves a star all for itself. This novel is an extremely bizarre read, featuring gruesome topics and chilling characters, but with an overall thought-provoking message. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this novel as much if it wasn’t relevant to my coursework, but in the end it was a fairly satisfying read none the less.

Next read: ‘Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo

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