The Wasp Factory (In Memory of Mr. Banks)

The Wasp Factory

By: Iain Banks

The Premise

Frank Cauldhame is your average 16 year old. Well, not really, as he has killed 3 people (all within his own family) in his earlier years. Frank's brother, Eric, has escaped from a mental hospital and while preparing for his inevitable return, Frank reflects on his life up to this point. Soon, though, he learns something about himself that turns his already messed up life upside down.

The First Stitches

The story begins with Frank checking the Sacrifice Poles (which include the heads of mice, a seagull, a rat and some dragonflies). Before he is able to finish, a sudden lift-off of a flock of birds catches his attention. Through binoculars, he is able to see that Officer Diggs, from the mainland, is peddling up from the distance. He stops at the gate in the middle of the swaying bridge and uses the phone to communicate with Frank's father, who allows his entrance. At this point we find the Factory has been warning Frank about something important in  its usual non-specific way.
Instead of going straight home (Father doesn't like Frank to be home when Diggs is around), he decides to continue checking the poles. Afterward, he leaves his sack of heads and bodies in the "Bunker" and finally heads home (the birds have again alerted him, this time of Diggs's departure). Upon arriving home, Frank's father puts out the remaining stump of his cigar, staring at Frank. "I suppose I'd better tell you," he says. "Eric has escaped from the hospital."
"I hate having to sit down in the toilet all the time. With my unfortunate disability I usually have to, as though I was a bloody woman, but I hate it. Sometimes in the Cauldhame Arms I stand up at the urinal, but most of it ends up running down my hands or legs."
Mending the Seams

Plot: Much like in my recent(ish) review of We Need To Talk About Kevin, the narrative of this book is told through a first person perspective, specifically that of Frank. Unlike the aforementioned, though, it is not in a letter format, but simply a first person recalling. It's done in a way that keeps you close to the main character, but does not alienate the rest of the personalities in the story. In my opinion, it also helps to keep Frank's mindset and motivations clear as he relives those awful, yet satisfying moments in his life.
Characters: Speaking of the different personalities, I did enjoy all the characters of this book. From Frank Cauldhame to his diminutive friend, Jamie. Every character in Frank's immediate family has their own sort of "rituals" that seem to personify their being. Frank himself has his Factory, which he routinely turns to for a bit of macabre interpretive "advice". Mr. Cauldhame has his meticulous measurements, which he feels help build character. Eric...well, Eric burns dogs.

I'm sorry, what??

Setting/Atmosphere: What sets the atmosphere in this book is not general imagery of the scenery (it is set in beautiful Scotland; Frank's home being offshore on an island), but the moments leading up to the atrocities Frank has committed, such as the chapter with his younger brother, Paul. Also various moments like the one leading up to the explanation of Eric's current mental state do a great job of setting a complete dip in complacency.
Special Effects: N/A
Music/Audio: N/A

The Binding Stitch

While I admit, this review is partially in response to the recent passing of Iain Banks, coincidentally, this was also the next review I had planned out. That being said, I am not afraid to say that this book was seriously well deserving of being named one of the greatest books of the century. Being 184 pages and Mr. Banks's first published novel, published originally in 1984, I was amazed at how hard it was to put down as it progressed. I haven't read anything else of his (as a matter of fact, this, like We Need To Talk About Kevin, was a recent present from my fiance and the first of either respective authors I've read), but given the opportunity, will be seeking out more. Whether you are a fan of macabre literature or just want a really good book to read, I suggest picking this one up as soon as possible and giving it a nice home on the shelf and in your memory bank. R.I.P. Mr. Banks and thank you for your contribution to modern literature.

Also, the cute doggy above came from here.

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