Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory (1984)
- Doug Johnstone
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of All Time
They say that often an author's debut novel is his or her most autobiographical. Well if that's the case, heaven help Iain Banks. The Wasp Factory created a stushie amongst bamboozled literary critics who didn't know how to take this coruscating, visceral attack of a novel, some decrying it as pornographic while words like 'crass', 'puerile' and 'video nasty' were bandied about elsewhere. In fact, The Wasp Factory is an astonishingly accomplished and assured debut, a novel which brought Gothic horror bang up to date, which melded toe-curling thriller with literary aspirations and which unleashed a simply astounding authorial imagination on the world. But it's not for the weak-hearted, that's for sure.
The story revolves around narrator Frank, a 16-year-old misfit in the dysfunctional family from hell. Frank spends his days ritually torturing and killing animals and generally acting obsessive-compulsive as he lives in his strangely warped little world. His mother abandoned him, dad has his own problems and brother Eric has just escaped from a psychiatric hospital where he was sent for setting fire to dogs. Despite all the killing and mutilation that occurs, the book's most chilling aspect is its narrator's matter-of-factness as he goes about his gruesome daily routine. Frank has been kept away from other children and school his whole life, something which lends plausibility to the childish obscenity of his current day-to-day life.
Banks' prose is intense, direct yet dense, packing observations and ideas into every line like there's no tomorrow, yet maintaining accessibility, a blend of inventiveness and popularity that his work has continued to display. Banks has gone on to write more complex and ambitious books but few match The Wasp Factory for sheer impact, and the fact this amazing debut hasn't aged a day is testament to its author's timeless talent.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.