The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

The Basics


This book follows the narration of Frank, a young man living on an island, who… has some issues. Through the course of the book, coming in at a very short 184 pages, we learn about those issues and about Frank’s arguably more disturbed older brother, Eric. Eric has recently escaped from a home for the mentally ill and is on his way to the island. Oddness ensues.


My Thoughts


I think I was just plain too hyped for this book. Everything I’d heard about it indicated it was brilliant, dark, discomfiting, a tour de force cavalcade of the deeply disturbed. From the way people talked, I expected American Psycho Redux. That was my biggest mistake.


I found myself waffling between being desperately bored with descriptions of the island and all the little doo-dads Frank had around it (like the dead animal poles and the traps and his stock of homemade bombs), to finding myself suddenly taken with stories of the past that Frank imparts in an attempt to explain why everyone and everything on this island is such a mess. It should’ve been an engaging look into the mind of someone who is clearly OCD and possibly mildly schizophrenic. Instead, it was dry and listless and barely interesting.


This leads me to my biggest problem with the book. The end, in which Frank’s deepest secrets are revealed even to him, attempts to explain away these deep-seated issues in a few paragraphs. It really just sounds like the work of someone who’s never personally dealt with a mental illness in any capacity wanting there to be REASONS. The same goes for Eric’s backstory. It’s some pretty heavy-handed stuff, and it ripped me out of the story entirely.


But was this book a total disaster? No. It had its moments. The Wasp Factory of the title being a good example of how something like this can be handled well and with a creative, unique eye. In the end, these moments just make it seem like a book that could’ve been great and turned out mediocre.


Final Rating