“My greatest enemies are 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, destroying what I have built, washing away what I have left, wiping clean the marks I have made.” Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory
This book is just so gross. By gross, I mean recurring graphic descriptions of animal torture and deaths of children. Avoid this book if you have a weak disposition, do not have a thing for gore or if you love fluffy bunnies, because I kid you not, some of the stuff in this book is just awful.
Frank, who's sixteen, lives with his father, some old brilliant ex-university professor. His brother Eric is in a psychiatric hospital and we begin the book hearing of Eric's escape. The story is written in first person and to be honest not much really happens. We know that Frank's's father has an office that he always keeps locked. Also, Frank receives crazed phone calls from Eric every day or two, frequently becoming hysterical and overly sensitive. All the while there are a good too many scenes of animals being killed and tortured, we have to listen to endless, monotonous internal dialogue by the incredibly boring Frank, which all culminates to what you think will be an epic struggle and battle but instead a huge freaky secret is exposed.
The book is narrated by Peter Kenny. He is a master of many voices and to be honest listening to him reading in Eric's voice is eerie - he encapsulates the fury, hysteria and lunacy in Eric's voice, I'm not exaggerating, you can practically hear the spit shooting from his mouth as he rages! It's scary! Unfortunately though, the voice he chose for Frank was just so boring, coupled with Frank being quite boring it was like pulling teeth listening sometimes.
I'm sure you can tell just from my rating that I wasn't a big fan of this story. There were parts in the tale that were interesting. For instance, Frank is evidently crazy himself. He divulges the three murders he planned and perpetrated as a child with a quiet detachment, and consistently shares with the reader his obsessive compulsive behaviours and his inability to control his habits.
Frank's OCDish behaviour manifests in his creating a sort of religion. Everything he does has, in his eyes, greater meaning. The animals he tortures and kills are always done in a ritual manner, he believes himself to be able to see in to the future with these killings. We hear references of his alter, the animals being called sacrifices, and his premonitions... there is even one point where he thinks that he can reach his brother telepathically and is pretty sure he did.
I found the story repetitive and so frustrating. It was just a constant reminder of how nuts Frank is and how much he loves torturing things. Frank does not grow. He is stagnant, and bizarre, and I'm sure Banks thought that it would all be worth it in the end with the twist, but it wasn't. I walked away flabbergasted and annoyed.
The story's twist, which I shall not give away can easily pass even the most focussed reader, but the clues are there, all along, so let me know if you catch them. I unfortunately already knew the twist at the end and I am sure that it removed some of the intrigue from the book that others would experience. All in all though, I'm not a fan of excessive gore, or animal torture or child murders, so it was a difficult read for me, and the only reason I finished reading it was because I'd started. I also like to read writers that are clever about being pretentious... I don't like it shoved in my face.
It's a coming-of-age type of story set on a tiny Island in Scotland. It has pacing that is very, very typical of the Gothic. No goblins, ghosts or ghouls though I'm afraid! You may like it, I won't be unreasonable, I mean on GoodReads The Wasp Factory has done very well indeed and so it really just depends on your tastes. For me - no, I didn't enjoy it at all, it was like pulling teeth.