The Wasp Factory

A book review
by Chris Hibbard

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

This was a wacky book, full of wickedly morbid humour and bizarre plot twists. I came across it when looking at a website dedicated to the band Tool. One of their members must have liked it enough to advertise it on their website. Since I like Tool, I took a chance and unearthed it right here in Lethbridge at a used bookstore for way too little money, considering how much I enjoyed it.
I should say here, that between the books Perfume and The Wasp Factory, my fondness for the morbid, the bizarre and the macabre has increased, so much so that I wrote a rather morbid childrens story years later, one which I probably would not have written had I not been exposed to these two strange tales.

This was the debut novel from a writer who has written much science fiction since. But this is not science fiction. It is black comedy at its finest. I could tell it was written by a young author, for at times it drags on a bit and at other times it seems a bit messy, as though hastily slapped together, but what a weird story it is.

Frank is sixteen years old, a juvenile delinquent with a drinking problem and a fascination with destruction and death. He also has a disfigured genital area and a pyromaniac brother who has recently escaped from a mental hospital and is making his way home. He lives on a remote Scottish island far from town and when not drunk, spends a lot of time measuring household objects, for reasons never revealed until it is too late to turn back. Combine all these quirks together with Frank’s enthusiasm, intelligence and disinterested father and you have a very dangerous boy.

In fact, this book should have had a disclaimer on the cover: “Caution: graphic depictions of cruelty inside.” Starting with bugs and birds, before moving on to rabbits and dogs, and eventually humans, Frank experiments with torture and pain. He pulls one of his own fingernails off to see what’s underneath. He has a torture chamber for mice in his bedroom. He sends his little niece floating off over the ocean when he ties her to the world’s largest helium balloon. He puts a poisonous snake in his best friend’s hollow leg while his friend is taking a swim.

This book is just bizarre, but it is told in such a way that you can’t help but laugh at how screwed up and pitiful (yes, pitiful even) this boy is; and at less than 200 pages, it was an easy read for one who is not too squeamish. Even the resolution of the book brings no closure. There is no happy ending, no justice, no safety, just one fucked up little kid.

~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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