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on 19 June 2017
i love this book !! i've read it so many times. i love the characters. it so weird and original. it doesn't take long to read, totally do it
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 January 2015
The Wasp Factory was originally published in 1984 and was the first novel by Ian Banks.

Told in the first person by key character 16 year old Frank Cauldhame, a thoroughly disturbed and sick young man, Frank has spent his life on a small island isolated from most of the rest of the world.

'The Wasp Factory' is Frank's account of his childhood and an insight into a series of weird and wonderful torture/murder rituals he invents as a way of predicting the future of the island and the weaponry he makes to keep it protected.

Some of the torture/murder scenes are visceral and completely over the top. They stand out from the rest of the narrative like jagged glass. They're shocking and that's the point but; I found the animal brutality incredibly hard to read and stay with. Made me cringe.

On the other hand what I enjoyed about the novel was the concept of a crazy boy living in glorious isolation and making 'magic' with an old clock face. Reeks of Gothic horror and those elements come into their own when Frank's older brother, Eric, escapes 'the asylum' and begins a journey back to the island.

There are some real gems and in places the atmosphere crackles with tension unfortunately; most of the book is flat and grey. Only the 'horror' makes the novel remarkable but it's also the horror that makes it almost unbearable.

I'm leaving 3* because the reading experience was so difficult. Would I recommend?. Only to those looking for the surreal who aren't easily offended.
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on 27 June 2010
A dark sense of foreboding and distrust of human nature accompanied me during the relatively few days it took to read this truly disturbing book - and for some weeks after. It is easy to see how Banks came to excel as a writer of Science Fiction as the world and mind of the central character are ostensibly as alien to mainstream society as that of an extraterrestrial -a fact Banks himself acknowledges in the preface of the 25th anniversary edition.

In Frank Cauldhame we get a terrifying insight into the mind of the child socio/psychopath. What is truly disturbing is the banal acceptance of murder,violence, cruelty to animals and adherrance to ritualistic beliefs as normality.It is this collision of realities - ours and that of Frank- that creates the pychological horror of the novel. There is no softening of the novel's brutality as a result of Banks's use of the first person and lack of the passive voice.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2006
I first read this book about 8 years ago and have since read it several times as the brilliance and originality of it make it a rewarding read. That's not to say it's a happy book because it most certainly isn't. The Wasp Factory is a darkly twisted first person narrative of Frank, a profoundly disturbed teenager whose principle sources of entertainment are torturing animals and bumping off unwanted cousins. And we're not just talking about incinerating ants with a magnifying glass or a bread knife in the back, we are talking DIY flamethrowers, bombs, kites, snake venom and The Wasp Factory - a device of psychopathic genius.

I've never read another book like this and to be honest I'm not sure I want to. Frank's simple yet warped logic is brilliantly explained by the author and gives the reader a new way of seeing the world and seeing connections between seemingly unconnected events that were never obvious before until you've taken a trip in Frank's mind.

Banks isn't renowned for subtlety and that charge could be made here but that would be to miss the subtle way the book builds to a climax as Frank's mentally ill brother makes his way home to an explosive endgame after escaping from the secure hospital where he is detained.

The Wasp Factory is darkly comic, truly horrifying and well-paced, but most of all it's expertly written and you'll just want to read more and more. Well, that is if the battle with the rabbits near the beginning doesn't put you off. I'd say read it if you dare but don't say I didn't warn you.
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As debut novels go, it's certainly ambitious - dark, gothic and grotesque yet still, even now, almost modern in its sensibilities. The writing is powerfully evocative, lending the whole novel a certain whiff of the occult - the protagonist's own conviction in the power of the talismanic objects which he uses to project his authority infuses the book with a certain sinister supernaturalism. If this was the first Iain Banks book I read, I think I would be interested to read further.

It is not, however, a flawless book - in fact, it's very flawed. What's striking about it though is that it comes very, very close to transcending those flaws to become a mini-masterpiece. In the end though, it doesn't *quite* manage to do that although it does insinuate strongly the incredible quality of the writing that Banks will later produce during his life. While it is just bubbling over with wit and insight, it comes across as somewhat rushed and unsatisfying as the book builds to a rather disappointing crescendo. The menace that is so elegantly built in the initial parts of the book fail to deliver. The early promise of a special and cathartic revelation at the end becomes a 'twist' so pedestrian that I had already considered and dismissed it as trite during the reading.

It's a book I would recommend, without hesitation, to anyone who is already a fan of Banks - it's interesting to see the genesis of his writing. It's not a book I would recommend to those looking to dip their toe into the body of his work.
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on 30 January 2014
It is unfortunate that the first time I heard of Iain Banks was when he released a press statement, saying that he had terminal cancer, and that the next book he released would in fact be his last. Yet, as terrible a circumstance it was, It was through this (and the subsequent recommendation from a dear friend) I came to read The Wasp Factory.

I've heard this described as horror and to an extent can understand why. Though there is very little linear progression throughout the story, each chapter, through its mix of horrific events retold and mundane day to day musings, holds a sense of suspense which is almost effortlessly created. Questions constantly plagued me throughout; who is Frank, what is the Wasp Factory, why did he kill the people he did, who were those people to him...the list goes on and on. It is a book built on the inquisitiveness of the reader and your own psyche creates the tension, the slow build up to whatever event the ominousness seems to be hinting...

Reading as borderline psychopathic Frank (he probably is in fact actually fully, over the line, psychopathic but after reading from his point of view I find it hard to commit to that verdict) is uncomfortable. That's the best way I can describe it - there are times when, seeing events unfold through his eyes, you feel empathy, horror, hatred and occasionally genuine affection for Frank. These moments of light were made almost grotesque to me when compared to the dark and there were several passages, describing Frank's offhanded approach to killing or maiming, which made me feel distinctly unclean for ever feeling any empathy for him at all.

I found the end surprising. There was no chance, absolutely none, that I'd have ever seen it coming. After using the entire book to build up to what I assumed would be a certain ending, that conclusion is blown out of the water swiftly and without ceremony. I admired that, myself, as being fooled by the author after being given all the clues is something I think only great writers can do.

And Iain Banks is great. His style, his plot, his characters...there is originality and darkness there which, combined with flares of humanity, make The Wasp Factory an incredibly absorbing read. I am deeply saddened that the literary world has been robbed of such a man, to have written something so very memorable. Though despite the tragedy of his situation his work will, I have no doubt, live on as an immense and brilliant tribute. Highly recommended.
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on 28 June 2001
Having read some of Banks' SF, and then started reading his fiction as well, I still shied away a little from reading "The Wasp Factory". It says much that the bad reviews as well as the good are included on the sleeve, and while it may sometimes not seem as extreme as you might have been lead to believe that's more through the changes to our society and what is now considered acceptable in a work of fiction.
The story focuses on Frank, a 16 year old living with his father on a small Scottish island, part of possibly the ultimate dysfunctional family - all of whom seem to be to varying degrees insane. As Frank's horrific history is revealed, there's the prospect of an even more horrific future as his brother - lately escaped from a secure hospital - makes his way back for a visit....
Much of what you may have heard about this book is true. There are horrors upon horrors, it goes all out to shock at some points, and is definately not for the squeamish. The fact that it doesn't descend to being yet another trashy horror shocker is entirely due to the quality of the writing and Banks' unique way of hooking his readers so that one simply has to carry on and find out exactly what it is that he has planted the seeds of. There is much (very) dark humour in some of Frank's descriptions of the events he has participated in, and throughout there's the blackly comic undercurrent of Frank's assumption that he is in fact the only sane one in his family - despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Much is said about "the twist" and the brilliance of it, but I found it not nearly as startling as some others seem to have, and in fact it ends in an almost tame way - albeit, as with many a good yarn, with an open-endedness that allows you to think about what may follow.
Not a book for everyone by any means, and maybe not as fulfilling a read as some of his later works (especially Complicity) but nonetheless an absorbing, grotesque, horrifying, captivating novel.
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on 14 April 2010
It is difficult to generically pigeonhole Iain Banks' debut `The Wasp Factory'. Such labels as `horror', `satire' or `bildungsroman' are inadequate and fail to appreciate the full extent of the novel's dark aesthetic. It has even been slapped with the blanket identifier `Edinburgh Gothic'; a wholly naive and facile attempt to describe a disparate collection of Scottish writings. However, the less specific term `modern gothic' falls somewhat close to the mark in describing this violent, gruesome and darkly comic story.

`The Wasp Factory' seems to be a blatant and total attack upon a romanticised artistic vision of Scotland (as might be found, for example, in the work of Walter Scott). The novel's narrator is Frank, a sixteen-year-old serial killer who lives alone with his father on a remote island off the Scottish coast. Perhaps in an attempt to extricate himself from a national cliché, Banks has Frank construct, in miniature, tranquil scenes representing an idealised, peaceful Scotland, and then destroy them with controlled floods and explosions. Frank is king on his island and, without remorse, tortures animals, murders children and engages in quasi-religious, perversely ritualistic activities with the `wasp factory'; a torturous contraption he has constructed to guide him through life.

The novel lacks any traditional `plot' and is difficult to describe without giving something away; suffice to say it's a story of a twisted and perverse boy whose narration is as gruesomely detailed as it is comically evoking. Yet Frank is an imperfect protagonist; he is frequently too self-aware to protect himself with pleas of naivety, and the manner in which he describes his schemes demonstrates a level of contrivance not conducive to the presentation of a confused individual.

Overall this is clearly a first novel; violent and attention-grabbing: it's an exercise in `look what I can do' shock, and is not without its flaws. Frank's final act of self-discovery is symbolically externalised by the very clichéd image of a locked room that, once gained access to, reveals all. The heavy-handed final turn lacks any of the subtlety that Banks has developed later in his career. Worth reading, and morally intriguing, `The Wasp Factory' is a good if imperfect first effort.
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VINE VOICEon 11 November 2010
The Wasp Factory is the story of Frank Cauldhame, a disturbed teenager who lives in a remote part of Scotland. Told from Frank's perspective, it is a dark and gruesome novel. As the story opens, Frank's brother has escaped from prison; Frank's father is detached, and retreats regularly to his study, where he works in secret behind a locked door; and all the while, Frank continues to perform macabre rituals and games with dead animals, centring on the mysterious Wasp Factory itself.

I enjoyed this book, knowing nothing about it in advance beyond the mention of "gothic horror" in the enthusiastic review quoted on the cover. It is not pleasant - at one point I actually felt a bit horrified, a very rare experience for me when reading - but I felt gripped, wanting to know more about the Wasp Factory, what Frank's brother and father were doing, and how Frank had become so disturbed. Having set up so many intriguing questions, Banks does well to offer fascinating and unexpected answers.

It was also a pleasure to read a novel that is relatively short, clear, and well-constructed. Many of the most celebrated novels today seem to be quite weighty and complicated by comparison.

The 25th Anniversary Edition includes a preface by Ian Banks, but at three pages long it is not worth the expense if you already have a copy. In the preface he talks about his early writing years before The Wasp Factory - his debut novel - was accepted for publication. I would have preferred some more insight from Banks into the novel itself.
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on 16 August 2013
An amazing debut novel by Iain Banks in 1984, but one, I think, that has gone largely ignored over the years. I only came to it recently, when his death was announced in the media. All these years I have wanted to read his work and now, in these tragic circumstances, I got round to it.

I had forgotten about the themes of the book - even if I had a good insight at the time of its initial publication - and I was quite surprised, at the very least, with its subject matter. I think I expected an out and out horror novel, but it is not that at all. Neither is it a gothic novel, even though it comes with that description in more than one official review. Rather it is a macabre story about the mind of a deranged youth, who has been conditioned that way by his parents and by his environment.

It is a first-person narrative, and all the better for that; also because it fits the devices of the development of the story. The young protagonist guides us through his motives and his mental processes in a way that keeps the reader interested. There is no real plot as such, but, instead, an atmosphere of impending doom pervades the novel. All of this is brought to a shocking conclusion in the final pages, giving way to feelings of genuine sympathy and disgust for the unfortunate protagonist.

A rewarding read that will stand the test of time whichever genre it is best suited.
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