Iain Banks' first novel, published in 1984 (?). A very disturbing tale of a teenager coming of age in Britain in the 1980s.

Refers to a method of divination developed by the central character, Frank, wherein a wasp is placed at the centre of a maze of different ways to die. Frank interprets the seemingly random choices of the wasp to determine (in some way) what to do next.

The Wasp Factory was first published in 1984, although I seem to remember hearing that it was written slightly earlier, when the authour was in his teens. It instantly catapulted Iain Banks to fame, where he's stayed as one of Britain's top authors, publishing at least one book a year since. I'm probably giving away too much by saying that the story has a great twist in it, but hopefully that will make you read it.

This sample quote is from the main character, Frank, a 16 year old in Scotland who narrates the story:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundemental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through

The Wasp Factory is most definitely a disturbing book.

Written by Iain Banks in 1984, this is a rather short novel. The novel's journey through 184 pages (I am not sure if this is a coincidence) is quite a bumpy ride.

In this novel, we meet Frank, who in the beginning of the story reveals how he disposes of three close relatives in various ways. We also hear of the gruelling tale of how his older brother, Eric, ends up in a mental institution.

The book is very cleverly written, starting off with dropping a long series of hints towards what has happened – as if they were a series of strings of wool – and then takes the reader through the process of gathering the string, revealing the solutions to the questions that are bound to arise. The narrative goes chronological, but not quite.

The narrator, Frank, tells the story of what is going on throughout about three weeks, starting with the discovery that Eric, his brother, has escaped from the asylum. We soon find out that Frank has a disability, although it doesn’t become clear until late in the book what the disability is, and not until much later what caused the disability.

The novel has some quite fascinating twists in the plot (That trademark, copyright, patented Iain Banks twist) – strangely enough, I guessed the last twist about 3/4 through the novel, but I am not quite sure why.

In any case, even though the book isn’t the best horror book I have read – neither is it the most cleverly written story I have read, it makes for a very nice study of the way one can build up a work of fiction.

In other words; If you do any writing yourself, The Wasp Factory might definitely be worth having a look at. I, for one, got several new ideas for short stories from reading it.

Enjoyable, at times gruelling and strongly nausea inducing, but always charming and amazingly intimate – also considering it is such a short book, you’ll be through it in a week or so. Give it a go!

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