The total nerds (aka me/my husband) reading this may be used to seeing Iain Banks as Iain M. Banks. Wow. Total transformation taking away that M. in the middle. Just like Clark Kent removing his glasses and suit in a phone booth. Banks simply removes his middle initial and he can go seamlessly from writing sci-fi books about boundless super-computer-starships and sentient space anomalies to writing about the isolated sociopaths, explosives, burning dogs, and the joy of various chemical enhancements and surgeries in the comfort of one's own cozy home.
The first time I read this book, I was more or less incredulous and hooked the entire time which ended with me sitting shocked over a breakfast of cold eggs visualizing Banks' appetizing descriptions in certain parts. Note to reader: avoid eating & reading, unless you're trying to diet and want to go the way of the bulimic, in which case, engorge yourself right before the latter half of the book. The second time I read, I was even more disturbed by it, because I had half-forgotten the plot (I only remembered that I was extremely creeped out in my first reading of it) and I did not fully realize during the first read just how exquisitely-written every part of the story is.
Frank is living on his own private island stocked with oodles of little animals for him to kill and more oodles of explosives when the local little Scottish seaside village policeman stops by for a spot of whiskey with Frank's dad and to tell him the news that his older brother, Eric, has conveniently broken out of the mental asylum. From there on, Frank has to secretly negotiate Eric's gradual return home from the asylum, along with his own desire to know exactly what his "old hippy" father is hiding in the dark corners of the foul family home. It's not just Frank's sordid inner monologue that grabbed me by the throat and kept me up, eyes peeled, wanting to know more about the unclear home life and history of this maniacal child. I should note that a lot of Banks' novels, though awesome in their breadth, are a bit long-winded. Not so in the case of The Wasp Factory.
Banks is more than a writer in this book, he's a magician with words. While Frank uses the parts of creatures he kills for his own unhinged forms of divination, Banks ropes you in for the journey all the way through, releasing each shuddersome revelation of Franks reality piece by piece. I remembered how in my angst-ridden days of high school, I used to listen to Nine Inch Nails every now and then (in between Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Liz Phair - back when Liz Phair did not compose songs only for radio play). All of Reznor's attempts at being industrially twisted and angry and demented seem cheap by comparison to the exchanges between Frank and his family members. Perhaps comparing writing to music is unfair, but art is art, and sentiment is sentiment and that's the way I felt. I did not really care to get into Reznor's head when I listened to Pretty Hate Machine - partly because at the time I was too wrapped up in those high school days of being my own pretty hate machine (you honestly could not blame me if you went to my high school with its student parking lot filled with Beamers and Lexus trucks bought by parents who had no business splurging that level of money on kids who didn't know any better) - but going through Frank's tale I felt that I had to know what experiences Banks had collected in his days as ammunition to write such a story.
You will be plunged headfirst into the altered logic of Frank, and oddly enough, you will sympathize. The child has no actual identity, no passports or social security (whatever the UK equivalent is), no documents to tie him to the real world. The setting of the isolated island attached by one suspension bridge to the isolated town sustains Frank's singular nature, his "wars", his shrines, his devices, and his ways of creating his own personal landscape to ward off what would probably be unbearable boredom to everyone else. The good thing about this book to me is, sordid and depressing as it is in some ways, it's not one of those kill-yourself stories like "Requiem For A Dream" where you want to drown yourself in a bucket of gasoline or something because you are so depressed after watching people messing up their lives. Frank's life is plain messed up from the beginning, so there isn't that whole descent into darkness thing going. You don't feel like you are so inextricably stuck in the spiraling headfucks of the characters that there is no way out, and I suppose that is because Frank's story is in its own way so exotic and unparalleled that you just can't compare anything to it. That exclusive oddness is what drew me in here - not so much the evil, but the making of something evil. What more can I say except: read this book.
WTF = 25/30
W = 9
T = 8
F = 8
A brief clip of Banks...