The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

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The Wasp Factory

Five words from the blurb: killed, brother, unconventional, bizarre, cruel

I have had The Wasp Factory on my shelf for a long time, but I’d been too scared to read it. How could I possibly enjoy a book about a child who enjoys murdering children and torturing animals? In a bold moment I decided to give it a try and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I loved it.

The book follows Frank, a disturbed teenager who admits to murdering three people.

A death is always exciting, always makes you realise how alive you are, how vulnerable but so-far-lucky; but the death of someone close gives you a good excuse to go crazy for a whale and do things that would otherwise be inexcusable. What a delight to behave really badly and still get loads of sympathy!

I was completely gripped to the text, desperate to know why he killed members of his family and how he managed to get away with it.

I admit that there were a couple of gruesome scenes, but for some reason they didn’t disturb me. I’m sure that some people will be disgusted by this entire book, but I thought that Banks did a good job of lifting the mood with humour. I was also impressed by how much I enjoyed seeing inside Frank’s disturbed mind, despite hating the majority of his actions.

I loved the ending. This is one of those wonderful books where clues are sprinkled throughout the text, but it is impossible to guess the outcome. The resulting moral message of the text added to my appreciation.

I can see why this book has become a modern day classic. It is unique, bizarre, clever and compelling. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this story, but I’m very glad I don’t know anyone like Frank!

Highly recommended.

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Did you enjoy The Wasp Factory?

Which is your favourite Iain Banks book?


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40 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    I bought this book a year or two ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf since. I think I origonally bought it because I was looking for more authors from Scotland, Ireland Englnad etc. Than I realized how dark the book was. After your review I may bump it up, knowing that it was a good read, even the more gruesome scenes may be able to be more bearable. The ending intrigues me. Good review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jules, Despite the subject matter I didn’t find this book very dark. It won’t be giving me nightmares and I was fine reading it on my own in the house at night. The first few pages give you a very good idea of the depths this book stoops to, so give it a try and see if it is for you.

  2. David H says:

    “This is one of those wonderful books where clues are sprinkled throughout the text, but it is impossible to guess the outcome.”

    Heh, I saw Iain Banks being interviewed at Cheltenham Literature Festival a couple of years ago; during the audience-questions section at the end, one audience member casually blurted out the twist in The Wasp Factory. “Hope that didn’t spoil the book for anybody!” cried Banks.

    (Incidentally, if you ever get the chance to see Banks at a live event, do; he’s an excellent raconteur.)

    1. Jackie says:

      David, LOL! Oh no! That would have spoiled the book for me. I guess it is considered acceptable 25+ years publication, but I a warning would have been good.

      I’d love to see Banks speak, but haven’t had the chance yet. I’ll keep an eye out for him.

  3. Alex says:

    I’ve heard great things about this one but never took the plunge exactly for fear of the theme. Still, I’m a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk, so I’m sure I can handle a bit of killer children…

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I didn’t enjoy the only Palahniuk I read. Not sure what that means for the likelihood of you enjoying this one, but it wasn’t the violence that put me off Palahniuk so you may be OK. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

  4. Izzy says:

    Great review. I read this book way back in 1996 and still think about it regularly. I’ve read several of his other books and enjoyed them all, but this is the one that stayed with me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Izzy, The only other Banks I’ve read is The Business and I enjoyed that. I’m sad to hear that Wasp Factory is his best, but can see how that would be the case. I’m sure I’ll still think about it in 15 years time.

  5. Graham says:

    I have not read anything by Banks, but keep meaning to. It’s one I will get around to at some point.

    1. Jackie says:

      Graham, I have a lot of authors like that! I hope you manage to squeeze some Banks into your reading soon.

  6. John Braine says:

    I got a jolt of excitement when I saw in your sidebar that my favourite book blog would soon be reviewing my (easily all time) favourite book. I find it a little piece of perfection. Every sentence brings a smile to my face. I love the little quirky things; the Da smelling his farts to see what he’s been drinking, and knowing the measurements of everything in the house. I love the Wasp Factory itself, the made-up superstition of it all. I love everything about it. Have yet to find another book that comes so close in perfection, for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      John, I can see how this could be someones favourite book. It will be one of my favourite reads of the year and I can see it growing on me over time, but I don’t think it will end up beating Mistry or Saramago. I guess only time will tell though….

  7. Falaise says:

    I had exactly the same pre-conceptions about this as you did, Jackie and, when I finally picked it up, I loved it too!

    1. Jackie says:

      Falaise, I wonder how many other wonderful books we’re missing out on due to preconceptions? I’ll try not to be too scared next time. (and will probably end up having nightmares as a result!)

      1. Falaise says:

        Well I know I miss out on a lot which is why I’m working on avoiding making presumptions……..with the emphasis being on “working on”!

  8. Steph says:

    I always get Ian Banks vs Ian Rankin confused, so I have no idea if this author has been on my radar for a while, but regardless, this book sounds awesome. As you know, We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of my favorite psychological thriller novels because I do have a bit of a fascination with sociopaths. And I always like books that have a solid enough mystery that I can’t guess the outcome before turning the final page… I am definitely going to have to get my hands on this one! :D

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph,
      “I always get Ian Banks vs Ian Rankin confused” LOL! I can see why that would happen. Rankin writes lighter thrillers (I think – I haven’t actually read any of his books) but both are set in Scotland.

      If you have a fascination with sociopaths then I’m sure you’ll find a lot to interest you in this book. I loved Kevin and this book also investigates why someone commits violence. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

  9. This one sounds so intriguing. I often find myself drawn to books featuring a character I find so dissimilar. Somehow McEwan is an author I still haven’t read, so I’m adding this one to my TBR next to Atonement, which I’m determined to read soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I really need to read Atonement too, but I haven’t enjoyed the McEwan’s I’ve read so far so am postponing it. I think you’ll enjoy Wasp Factory more than Atonement, but not having read Atonement I guess I can’t be sure. I look forward to your thoughts on both books.

  10. Aths says:

    In a strange way, this book reminds me of Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, though both are very different books. I think the common connection I find is the humor in a dark-themed book, and the protagonist who sounds disturbed. I’m going to look for this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Aths, I haven’t heard of Miss Entropia, but anything that can be compared to this book sounds good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  11. I’ve been wanting to read this book, but even the title puts me off a little. I’ve read The (something) Road to Garbadale a few years ago which I enjoyed. I’ve also read one or two of his SF novels. He’s on my radar!

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Yes – everything about it sounds scary. :-( but I think you’ll be surprised by how light the tone is. I’ll have to read a few more of his books – I can see him becoming a favourite author.

  12. Annabel says:

    I’ve been a Banks fan ever since this book was published – I remember being shocked and totally gripped by this book. Must re-read!

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, Half of me is sad that I didn’t discover him sooner, the other half happy that I have his whole back catalogue to work through!

  13. FleurFisher says:

    I remember seeing somebody reading The Wasp Factory on a train when it first came out, in an edition with “negative reviews” all over the cover. It seemed so odd that I didn’t go near anything by Iain Banks until The Crow Road tempted me years later. I loved that and Whit, and liked a few others, but I have never been brave enough to try The Wasp Factory. Your reaction encourages me, so I many give it a whirl one of these days.

    1. John Braine says:

      Funnily enough – it was negative review that really drew me to The Wasp Factory. Someone pondered if it was some kind of sick joke, which perked my ears right up.

      Same thing happened with David Sedaris – Squirrel Seeks Chipmonk. Someone on goodreads gave it one star because it was so disturbing. Again, right up my street! I thought.

      1. Jackie says:

        John, A negative review will often intrigue me too! i’m still a bit scared of the word disturbing, but I’ll try to be braver in future.

    2. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, Oooh I’d love to see that cover! I’ll keep my eyes peeled in secondhand bookshops.

  14. Jeanne says:

    I have a friend who loves this novel and urged me to read it. I found it quite disturbing, but fascinating. Reading it was like looking at a spider. Close up.

    After this one, she urged me to read the Company novels. I read one and liked it , and will read another someday.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, I love your comparison with looking at spiders – they are actually quite beautiful when observed close up – just like this book :-)

  15. I do believe you have just picked my next creepy read for me. Why thank you. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      A Reader’s Respite, My Pleasure. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  16. Like you and quite a few people on this comment thread I had this book for years but have always kept away from it maybe because of it’s disturbing premise. However, now that you say it’s good, I really want to read it. It’ll be perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge. I’ve since lost my copy but I just downloaded a new one on my Kindle. Yay!

    1. Jackie says:

      Mrs B, Yes, this book is perfect for the RIP challenge. I hope you don’t find it too disturbing – I look forward to seeing your thoughts on it.

  17. stujallen says:

    I read this a year or two after it came out remember my friends mum raving about it ,so read it I liked crow road ,but franks struggle in this book and the darkness of it has stuck with me thats all I ve read by him ,he is from same part of scotland as rob of robaround books lives ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, It is impressive for a book to remain with you over the decades and I think that proves the quality of this book – now I just have to read a few of his later ones.

  18. great novel

    this and The Crow Road are probably his most famous works, the latter has a good tv series adaptation

    i prefer Iain M. Banks (the name he uses when he writes science fiction) but it’s all good

  19. parrish says:

    I think I’ve read everything he’s written, including all his. Iain M Banks books, this ones great as is Crow Road ( especially the crematorium scene ) & whit is another good one, but my favourite & one I’ve actually posted on is Raw Spirit – in search of the perfect dram. Altho ostensibly about whisky, it also deals with Blair/Bush, the Iraqi war, transport whilst providing a link into this authors thought process, the nearest similarity I can think of, at the moment is Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running, which uses a running diary as its jump off point.

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