THE WASP FACTORY by Iain M. Banks

THE WASP FACTORY

KIRKUS REVIEW

Through much of this impressive first novel, almost up until the awkward and misguided finale, young Scottish writer Banks achieves that fine British balance--between horrific content on the one hand and matter-of-fact comic delivery on the other. The narrator, whose cool prose is sometimes a bit too sophisticated for credibility, is 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame, living outside a remote Scottish village--a cheerfully insane lad who tortures animals, imagines that he gets instructions from the "Factory" (the room upstairs where he cremates wasps), and fondly recalls the three grisly/farcical murders he committed from age six to age ten. Is there good reason for Frank to be so blithely unhinged, so devoted to his warfare against wildlife and his ritual killings? ("How the hell am I supposed to get heads and bodies for the Poles and the Bunker if I don't kill things?") There is indeed. His father, an ex-hippie and sometime chemist, is a shambling eccentric obsessed with measurement. His flower-child mother deserted Frank at birth, then briefly returned when he was three--and may have helped to cause little Frank's life-shattering accident. (A nasty old dog supposedly chewed off the toddler's genitals.) Furthermore, Frank's older half-brother Eric, who was deserted by two mothers, has gone certifiably bonkers--setting fires, eating dogs; his madness was triggered by a ghastly moment while working as a hospital orderly (a grotesque horror for only the very strongest of stomach); and now he has just escaped from the asylum, making his way home to Frank, "a force of fire and disruption approaching the sands of the island like a mad angel, head swarming with echoing screams of madness and delusion." Banks handles this gothic/clinical material, for the most part, with sure, deadpan restraint, echoing William Golding, Saki, and Joe Orton--while finding hilarity in fugitive Eric's loony phone-calls to Frank, in misogynistic Frank's drunken rambles with dwarf-pal Jamie. Here and there, however, the underlying themes of sex/aggression are spelled out lumpily. ("All our lives are symbols. . . women can give birth and men can kill.") And the final chapter, mixing Eric's violent homecoming with revelations about Frank's true sexuality, pushes a delicately gripping nightmare-novel over the edge into psycho-melodrama and sexual polemics. In sum: a nastily striking, somewhat uneven debut--at its dreadful best when not straining for symbolic shockers or cosmic resonance.
Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1984
ISBN: 0684853159
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1984




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