I recently read one of the most finest novels I have encountered yet: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
I already had high expectations from the novel as it belongs to the gothic genre. After studying Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber for A level English literature, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I fell in love with anything related to gothic fiction.
The Wasp Factory is definitely a must read. Exploring issues of gender, identity and even Scottish politics, Banks cleverly creates a plot twist for all to remember. The story deals with the protagonist, Frank, who spends his days building dams, mercilessly killing animals and murdering three of his siblings before the age of sixteen. Living alone with his controlling father, and with only one friend, Frank anticipates the return of his insane brother Eric, who has recently escaped from a mental asylum and is on his way home. Living on a remote island by the fictional town of Porteneil, Banks explores the mind of an adolescent male, increasingly isolated from everyone and everything around him.
The descriptions of the animal slaughter are far more mentally scarring than Frank’s other human murders. Frank seems to show no fear when dealing with blood, guts and general butchering of mammals – it’s safe to say he gets the job done. His madness is unavoidable, staring at you throughout the novel. To put it simply, Frank isn’t right in the head. He should definitely get out more…
…except he can’t. Or rather, he chooses not to. It sickens him to even think about leaving the island. Being attached to it is an understatement with this guy.
Without giving the story away – which I haven’t with the above details, so don’t worry just yet – I would advise those who decide to read the novel to think about Eric and the telephone conversations he has with Frank. I don’t know about you, but when I was reading them, I definitely found them uncomfortable and somewhat bizarre. Banks suggests in the conversations that Frank may be suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Why does Eric claim that his name is Frank and that Frank is therefore Eric? Why does he say they are both “here”? Why is Eric the one chasing dogs and killing them when we are told that Frank was the one castrated by one? It all doesn’t seem to add up. Unreliable narrator alert. This novel isn’t at all what it seems.
Banks is brilliant. With a plot twist that will leave you haunted and questioning what you read, The Wasp Factory definitely delivers in the Gothic fiction department. If you’re looking for an escape from the hardships of life however, I’d recommend something else.