The Wasp Factory

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Publisher: Abacus (1993 reprint, orginally published 1984)

ISBN: 0 34910 177 9

Précis: Enter - if you can bear it - the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least.

'Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons that I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Emerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.'

Be warned! To proceed reading below here is to risk spoilers about the story of the book. It is recommended that you proceed only after having first read the novel.

Summary: Frank, while out checking his totem like sacrifice poles that are scattered around the Cauldhame owned island, notices the local policeman coming to the island for a visit. As his presence is something that the rest of the world is not, in a legal sense, aware of he keeps out of sight and awaits Diggs' departure. To amuse himself he spends time using his catapult and inspecting the island for more items for his sacrifice poles.

Once he returns to the house he is informed by his father that Diggs brought news of his mad brother, Eric, having escaped from the high security insititution where he was being kept. It is now feared that he is returning to the island and it's surrounds, perhaps to embark once again on a campaign of burning dogs and trying to feed the local village children worms. Frank, having been warned enigmaticly by the Wasp Factory of this, has premonitions of dread and feels sure that this was the news the factory had been trying to tell him.

There then ensues preperations as Frank tries to strengthen the protection his sacrifice poles, weapons caches and various other facilities dotted around the island can offer. In the course of doing this family history is revealed in a series of, dispersed, flashbacks to past events. We are told the means by which he has disposed of his three murder victims (one by snake, one by large kite and a final one by bomb) and the reasons for each of the murders. Also revealed is the primary cause of Eric's madness. (Lets just say it ties in with headaches and worms, and leave it at that.)

Further it is revealed that Frank has been castrated by an accident involving the family dog when he was younger. During these days of preperation Frank receives sporadic phone calls from his brother Eric signalling that he does indeed plan to return home, although not why he wants to return. At the end of about the fourth day of this he finds evidence of his brothers presence in the area, namely one almost dead burnt dog.

Returning home he begins a vigil in the loft of the house keeping lookout for his brother's approach. His father, having received word through channels unknown of Erics arrival, had left for town - ringing once in a drunken state to try and get Frank to leave the house. Returning home, still fairly drunk, he tries call Frank out but in the end finishes up sleeping on his own bed.

Frank, having seen no sign of his brother and actually having fallen asleep for a few hours, comes down from the loft to find that his father has left the study keys out. Seizing the opportunity to see what is in the study Frank uses the keys and is confronted with a specimin jar containing a small, immature and torn set of male genitals. Furthermore finding male hormones and tampons it's his Father's desk in the study he becomes enraged, suspecting his father of being a female transvestite.

Confronting his still not sober father Frank discovers, much to his surprise, that his father is not a female transvestite but in fact a bona-fidde male. Before he can cogitate on this Eric signals his much anticipated arrival by setting fire to, and panicing, a whole herd of sheep. In the ensuing kerfuffle Eric manages to obtain an axe to compliment his burning torch and procedes to try and break into the basement of the house where, for family historical reasons, a large cache of ex-naval cordite is stored.

Suceedingly in opening the door Eric then fails in his attempt to light the cordite and runs off into the night again, leaving behind a fairly substantial mess. After effecting temporary repairs to the basement door Frank returns inside to be told the truth about why his father has male hormones and tampons locked in his study. It is revealed that Frank is not actually Frank, but rather Frances - with the attendant implications to gender the name implies.

Awaking the next morning and still stunned by all the revelations the previous night has brought, Frances (aka Frank) discovers her brother still sleeping out on the island and has an epiphany about her life to date and the motivations behind her actions. Reflecting on that and other events she muses that Eric is now going to be even more confused than before after having fought so hard to return home to see his father and brother, only to now be greeted by his father and sister.

Comments: This is a book that won't be to many people's taste. It details, in a fair amount of detail, a sordid little world where animal mutilation and mis-treatment is commonplace. Even ignoring the physical acts themselves the psychological aspects of the novel can be downright unpleasant as more and more of the relationships in Frank's family are revealed.

But for all that, and with a reasonably fortified stomach, the book has an appeal to it that is hard to resist. Perhaps it is fascinated horror as you await the next grisly twist in the tale. Or it is more the black humour present throughout the novel. Whatever it is the book makes an absorbing and terribly funny read. One of the more disturbing aspects of the book is realising exactly what it is you are laughing about.

The book does describe some quite vicious acts in detail, along with the justification and psychology behind them. This is done so adeptly that you never really question why the character is acting in the ways they do. It merely all hangs together as a part of the grisly puzzle of what went on in Cauldhame history.

I loved this book and I can see why Iain made such a splash with it when he was introduced to the literary world with this books release. He includes a variety of quotes, mostly the more vicious ones, at the front of the book in the reprinted editions so you can get some idea of how the reviewers of the time felt about the book. All in all a complex, well told tale that has me just wondering if it wasn't all a massive semi-private joke on Iain's part about Freudian psychology.

Philip R. Banks
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