The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
I enjoyed this book well. It was far different than anything I’ve ever read – which I’m sure most people who’ve read it will agree with – but not bad at all. If you’ve read any other reviews of this book, you know how violent and gruesome it is with animal cruelty and murder. Some people have said it makes them physically ill and they’re not able to finish it. I didn’t have that problem. I guess I’m desensitized from all my years of working on computers. Anyway, if you can fight through it, just tell yourself it’s fiction. It’s a book and nothing more. I think it’s worth reading.
My writing here will be vague and make references to events without spoiling any of the book. You can safely read my review without fear of losing anything in your reading of the novel.
I’m not sure if I agree that it’s one of the best books ever written. I think I read that in 1997, 25,000 people were polled about the best books written, and this was one of the top 20. Keep in mind, folks, this is the same group that touted Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five as being in the top five. So let’s not put too much stock in that list. I’m not sure that I would even put The Wasp Factory in my own personal top-twenty, but it was good. I will say that.
My problem with the book – the reason I’m not sure if it would be rated in my top-best – is that I don’t understand it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, no I’m not saying I didn’t “get it”. I’m saying I didn’t understand why it needed to be the way it was. I mean, I guess for good fiction, sure, you make your story wild and awesome. But I didn’t see why his brother had to be the way he was, for instance. Oh, and the Wasp Factory itself – what was up with that? Its brief appearance in the book was much anticipated, very intriguing and well received. But it was so brief that I didn’t even know why it needed to be in there. It sounded so ridiculously complex and terrifically intricate that I could have spent fifty pages just reading about how it worked. For something that influences his decisions, an eponymous article for which the book was named, you would think it would play a lot bigger role in the book. It probably took him years to construct it. Yet we see almost no time spent in front of it. We get a few short paragraphs, and that’s it. That’s supposed to be the center of this boy’s universe. I don’t understand why.
The instances of violence and murder were very well written. I was heartbroken for the children he dispatched, largely due to the graphic descriptions and the subtle nuances of the interaction. The fistful of flowers with the girl, for instance. This was a giant endeavor with a lot of prepwork and planning involved. Banks took the time to write the tiny details that brought it back down to a level that puts you in touch with humanity – a sentimental balance that leaves you stumbling and shaking your head in sadness for the victims. Very well done. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.
Bottom line, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick read and a thrill. It’s a nonstop page-turner. There are no real slow scenes that drag too long, and there’s enough mystery that’s well written enough to keep you interested. And the payoff is great. He ties off every loose end nicely – you get to find out exactly what everything in the book means, and why everything happened the way it did. And the twist at the end was breathtaking; unexpected. However – if you don’t like graphic depictions of animal torture and cruelty, and murder, of course, then stay away from this one.