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The WASP FACTORY: A NOVEL Paperback – September 10, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 302 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me."

Those lines begin one of the most infamous of contemporary Scottish novels. The narrator, Frank Cauldhame, is a weird teenager who lives on a tiny island connected to mainland Scotland by a bridge. He maintains grisly Sacrifice Poles to serve as his early warning system and deterrent against anyone who might invade his territory.

Few novelists have ever burst onto the literary scene with as much controversy as Iain Banks in 1984. The Wasp Factory was reviled by many reviewers on account of its violence and sadism, but applauded by others as a new and Scottish voice--that is, a departure from the English literary tradition. The controversy is a bit puzzling in retrospect, because there is little to object to in this novel, if you're familiar with genre horror.

The Wasp Factory is distinguished by an authentically felt and deftly written first-person style, delicious dark humor, a sense of the surreal, and a serious examination of the psyche of a childhood psychopath. Most readers will find that they sympathize with and even like Frank, despite his three murders (each of which is hilarious in an Edward Gorey fashion). It's a classic of contemporary horror. --Fiona Webster


The Independent One of the top 100 novels of the century.

The New York Times Brilliant...irresistible...compelling.

Mail on Sunday A mighty imagination has arrived on the scene.

The Financial Times Macabre, bizarre, and impossible to put down.

The Scotsman There's nothing to force you, having been warned, to read it; nor do I recommend it.

Punch The Wasp Factory is a first novel not only of tremendous promise, but also of achievement, a minor masterpiece perhaps.

The Times (London) Rubbish!

Times Literary Supplement A literary equivalent of the nastiest brand of juvenile delinquency.

Daily Express Read it if you dare.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction ed. 1998 edition (September 10, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684853159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684853154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (302 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the first book by Iain Banks and the only one I've read. It is graphically violent and disgustingly twisted. It describes murders of young children and torture of small animals. And in all of this it manages to be a very captivating novel with an air of mystery that only resovles itself at the end of the book. Narrated by a psychopathic 16 year old boy, Banks takes the reader on a tour of a family with a psychotic past, a town where no one's dog is ever safe, and the mind of a killer. In the final chapters, the book switches it's focus, and the lines are blurred between victim and torturer. Because of the graphic descriptions of terrible acts (massacre of a group of rabbits, burning of dogs, the sight that drove Eric crazy) 'The Wasp Factory is not for everyone. But if you can wade through the blood and stomach the descriptions, you will end up with a story that will disturb and shake up your beliefs.
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Format: Paperback
This book was recommended to me by a friend, who said he loved its wicked sense of humor. Named one of the best 100 novels of the last century by The Independent, "The Wasp Factory" certainly seems to have a strong cult following, as most of the highly favorable reviews here attest, but I find all this rather baffling. While not by any means a terrible book, Iain Banks's first novel is simply too messy and amateurish to qualify as a great novel. First of all, enjoying this book requires that one have a high tolerance for detailed descriptions of cruelty to animals, including the mutilation and immolation of many rabbits and dogs. Some of the violence in the book is actually quite funny, and can be enjoyed on a certain macabre level -- such as the narrator's description of an uncle's suicide gone terribly wrong -- but most of it is simply too dark and literally described to be laughable. It often seems that Banks is trying to shock without really thinking of the larger implications of any of the book's violence. While I read "The Wasp Factory," I kept hoping for a denouement that would tie everything together and create a resonance that the bulk of the novel lacked. Unfortunately, all I got was a transparent twist that lent nothing to the events that had preceded it, and seemed designed only to shock. In truth, the novel's twist is no more profound than the climax of the slasher film "Sleepaway Camp." I got the feeling that Banks really felt he was creating something on the level of an O. Henry story, but what he ended up with is a book that reads like a juvenile poison pen letter to all of humanity, and little more.
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Format: Paperback
"My dad's an eccentric.....I suppose I am, too....But it doesn't bother me. There are a lot madder people about the place" (Banks, 111).

Frank Cauldhame is a sixteen year old juvenile delinquent with a quirky, to say the least, personality. He's got a penchant for death, destruction, mayhem and mischief. He's also highly superstitious. Combine these aforementioned traits with intelligence, methodicism, and zeal, and you have a potentially dangerous character on your hands. Rather than shy away from this odd hodge-podge of personality traits, Iain banks chooses to dissect them, exploring various nooks and crannies within his book The Wasp Factory.

Among the ranks of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, and Exquisite Corpse's Andrew Compton and Jay Byrne, Frank Cauldhame calmly and casually admits within the early pages of this book that he has killed three of his family members. From there, the reader follows a day in the life of Frank, in which animal slaughter, war games, and thoughtful introspection are the norm.

However, the eccentricities of Frank and his world would not be complete without and accompanying eccentric family. Frank's father, Angus, is quite and contemplative, exchanging only a few words with his son daily regarding the measurements of household items. Frank's older brother, Eric, however, chooses the more in-your-face approach with which to display his unconventional nature. Eric, placed in an asylum some time ago for setting fire to dogs and forcing children to eat worms, has escaped and spends a good chunk of the book finding his way back home to the family with whom he fits so well.
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By A Customer on June 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found 'The Wasp Factory' enjoyable mainly for its ideas and certain aspects of its style. That is to say, I liked the Factory itself, I liked the sacrifice poles, and the accounts of the murders, and basically everything having anything to do with Frankie's odd, personalized occult system. I enjoyed the distorted sense of reality and the surreal atmosphere. And I was rather charmed with Frankie's father, a fascinating, well-painted, amusing, and somewhat creepy character.
Most everything else about the book annoyed or disappointed me in some way. My appreciation for Frankie's father didn't extend to his brother Eric, who didn't feel real enough and was WAY too cliche-insane, particularly in his (weak) phone conversations w/ Frankie. And Frankie himself didn't feel nearly as fleshed-out as he should've been: he always felt somehow off to me, as if the author didn't quite have a full handle on him.
In general, I liked the ideas and the style of the story, but I didn't like the way the text carried them. The writing felt a bit awkward and tell-tale-ish ("I went to the beach and then I did this and then I got tired so I rode my bike along the creek and when I got to the bump I jumped it like I used to as a kid and finally I got back to the house for lunch and ... etc. etc.) -- and at points it was flat-out boring. The atmosphere of the actual story and the style of the *writing* seemed somehow at odds with each other. I never felt quite as immersed or gripped as I felt I could have been, had the author known how to render his material more effectively.
I found the unusual ending of the book interesting in and of itself, but I didn't feel like the story had really built up to this particular revelation. In general I felt as if Mr.
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