Oh. Oh no.

“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.”

Despite what I’m doing here, I’m not one to read reviews, especially before having read a book. After I’ve finished one, I will spend some time seeing what other people thought of it, what they liked and if they thought the same as me. In particular, I do my best to avoid any reviews of people who make their money from reviewing. It seems to me that they also think it’s part of their job to insult and pick holes in whatever they’re reviewing, be it a book or a restaurant.

The Wasp Factory was given to me with the warning, “You have to read this. I can’t promise you’re going to like it, but it’s very memorable.” I realised not long after starting that there were actually some reviews in the front of the book, so I did a quick scan. And then read them all. Excerpts include:

“There is something foreign and nasty here.”

“Perhaps it is all a joke, meant to fool literary London into respect for rubbish.”

“There is nothing to force you … to read it; nor do I recommend it.”

“A repulsive piece of work.”

“The majority of the literate public … will be relieved that only reviewers are obliged to look at any of it.”

Basically, this is a book that seems so sure of itself that it is willing to fill the first three pages with negative reviews. Considering that Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks as he is known to science fiction readers) is now considered one of the best writers of the last century. This was his debut novel, and there’s nothing like entering the scene with a crash, which is exactly what he did. The book was controversial at the time, and remains so now, nearly thirty years later.

The blurb alone warns you that this is not going to be a particularly happy read, telling as it does that the narrator has killed three people, and is just sixteen years old. These deaths are later played out in complete and gory detail within the story, although they are probably the parts that are easiest to read. If you are in the least bit squeamish, you shouldn’t even consider this book.


Pictured: the novel’s most sympathetic character

There isn’t a likeable character in here, not one that you wouldn’t mind being stuck in a lift with for three hours (possible exception to be made for Jamie the dwarf). Frank, Eric and Angus are all lunatics, living on a secluded Scottish island, each wrapped in a cocoon of secrets, both against the outside world and each other. With twists you shouldn’t even try to second guess, the book, while disgusting and shocking, is one that keeps you going, although there are some chapters that shouldn’t be read over lunch, as I discovered to my own cost.

Frank is a keen abuser of animals, a trait he appears to share with Eric who, it is claimed, set fire to dogs before he was sent to a  mental institution. Dogs, however, are not the only animals here to find themselves getting the abuse. The titular wasps get it, as well as other various insects, rabbits, gulls, crows, hamsters, mice and even an adder.

If you enjoy being shocked, want to read the literary equivalent of a video nasty, and have a strong stomach and a mind capable of living with the knowledge of this book for the rest of your life, then by all means try this book. It isn’t bad, in fact, it’s very good, tightly constructed and well written, but I don’t feel I can properly recommend it out of a sense of duty.

If you aren’t into this sort of thing, then go and see Les Miserables again, and I’ll be back here when I’ve read something a little more innocent.