13 December 2010

The Wasp Factory; Iain Banks

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I go on about how wonderful Iain Banks' fiction is, and this, his first novel is as wonderful as his later works. Shorter than the other books I've read, The Wasp Factory also ups the creep factor; it's a little like We Have Always Lived in the Castle with a budding Hannibal Lector as hero.

Frank lives on a remote Scottish island, "hidden" from the real world by his father, who managed to forget to register him legally, so Frank has never been to school and has no National Registry number. That doesn't mean that Frank is stupid, just that his childhood schooling has focused on other things, like the exact length of items on the island. As a result he's also learned some odd crafts, like bomb building and making wasp-prison candles... and then there was his pre-teen "phase" where he killed two cousins and a younger brother. On the other hand, Frank is normal compared to his insane brother Eric, who set dogs on fire and fed maggots and worms to children. Eric's in an asylum, while Frank is free to go to the local bar on Saturday nights and get drunk with his friend, the dwarf Jamie.

All this starts falling apart when Eric escapes from the asylum and starts heading home, calling Frank from the road and being both menacing and increasingly deranged. Then there's the killer buck rabbit, the fire predicted by the wasp factory, his father's locked study and, well, dealing with the long-term effects of his childhood "accident". The richness with which Frank's world is drawn leaves the reader feeling let down when the ending arrives - it feels abrupt, with too many questions left unanswered.

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