Monday, September 5, 2011

Ooooh, nasty

Iain Banks's debut novel, The Wasp Factory, isn't for the weak of heart and stomach. There's animal torture, not one but three child murders, parental neglect and deception, gender confusion, to name a few. Needless to say, I loved it.

Frank Cauldhame, the 17-year-old "hero" of Bank's controversial novel, lives with his father in an isolated part of Scotland. Frank may appear to be your normal teenager who's curious all the time. But underneath that innocuous exterior is a monstrous individual, for Frank has some very twisted notions of fun.

First, Frank likes to torture animals. He beheads birds and small mammals. One of his favorite pastimes is getting mice from the petstore, putting them in his slingshot (or catapult as it's called in the novel), and then flinging them to their deaths. Also, he ties the heads of these animals in stick structures which he calls the Sacrifice Poles.

Second, Frank has murdered three children. The first was his cousin, who he managed to kill by placing a poisonous snake in his cousin's artificial leg. He also killed his younger brother by telling his brother to hit a German war bomb on the beach. And he murdered his cousin Esmeralda by letting her become entangled in a huge kite which Frank specifically built for the purpose of carrying his cousin away. Esmeralda's body is never found.

Then comes the initial conflict of the story -- his older brother, Eric, has escaped the mental institution where he's confined. Eric was once a promising medical student, but he was found to be setting fires to dogs in the neighborhood. Since his escape, Eric has been giving Frank phone calls much to his dismay and without the knowledge of their father.

Banks's debut novel, which was first published in 1984, truly deserves its widespread acclaim. It has even been chosen by a British poll as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. Banks's writing is visceral, often provoking a reaction of disgust from the reader. I, however, revelled in Banks's detailed narrative. And because of The Wasp Factory, I'd be willing to give Banks's science fiction novels a try.

In a way, The Wasp Factory is a coming-of-age novel, albeit in a very weird and gothic way. When Frank finally discovers who he really is from his father, it's enough to make your blood run cold.

Read this novel if:
  1. You're not afraid of violence in novels.
  2. You love debut fiction.
  3. You're into surprises at the end.


ram said...

gud am kyusireader,bakit nawala comment ko kay mr nick joaquin???where did it go,hehehe?!?

Monique said...

Hi! Just stumbled upon your blog through a link from Rocket Kapre's.

This book is in my to-read list. I appreciate the insights. Thanks! :)

Peter S. said...

@ram: Oh my goodness! Oo nga! Hmmmm.... Weird naman. Anyway, thanks for pointing it out, ram!

@Monique: Thanks for dropping by! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!

Ryan said...

I think this will be going on my wishlist. Thansk for the headsup

Peter S. said...

Hi, Ryan! You're welcome!

Mrs. B. said...

I've had this book for ages. I started reading a few pages years ago but it was very creepy. I wonder if I'm ready for it now? Just in time for Halloween.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! Yes, I agree that it's creepy. But it's not the kind of creepy like the one you experience when you read ghost stories. I'm sure you'll get past the creepiness after a few more pages.

martine said...

loved this book so much, glad you're spreading the word.

Peter S. said...

Hi, martine! More people should read this!