Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

"The Wasp Factory" by Iain Banks (Abaqus, 1990)

The novel hits the ground running, with "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.". What are the Sacrifice Poles? What had the brother done? What is the Factory? Some of these questions are soon answered, but others take their place. What is the narrator's disability? Which three people did he kill? Why does his father keep his room locked?

The narrator, Frank is nearly 17. He lives with his father Angus. His step-brother, Eric, is older. Frank is articulate, though when I read "I'm old enough to get married without my parent's permission, and have been for a year" I thought he might have been married for a year.

Identification matters. Frank say of Angus - "He doesn't attach the same importance to [names] as I do. I know they are important" (p.16). Angus however has stickers all over the house, giving "the approximate measurement for the part of the object they're stuck to. There are even ones in pencil stuck to the leaves of plants" (p.11). Frank's birth is not in the official records.

Frank's into scaled recreations: 1/72 scale model soldiers in a war; a model dam that burst to flood a town where shells represented people. He's engineered the death of 3 children - by adder, wartime bomb, and a giant kite. One of the victims was his younger brother, Paul, so named, thinks Frank, because the dog that bit Frank's genitals off was called Old Saul (as we discover on p.109).

Both Frank and Eric kill animals. Sometimes they strike back - "the rabbit was on me in a half-second, heading straight for my throat" (p.31). We learn that Eric started well at medical school until he saw maggots feeding on the brain of a child in a vegetative state. After that he had a mental breakdown, burning and eating dogs. Eric could be viewed as Frank's alter ego who takes revenge on dogs. At one point Frank thinks he's in psychic contact with Eric.

Rituals and relics dominate Frank's life. "The Tin Drum ... was .. one of the few real presents he has ever given me, and I had therefore assiduously avoided reading it" (p.51). Then on p.164 he listens to a Wagner opera.

On p.117 it gets heavy - "All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in. ... The Wasp Factory is part of the pattern ... Like life it is complicated, so all the components are there". The Wasp Factory is a big clockface salvaged from a dump, a platform around which a dozen gadgety traps are prepared. A wasp is released into its centre. Which death it chooses is a sign.

Landscape is described lyrically - the sea, sheep and birds. There's some conventional observation too - "part of my brain thought about how in films, when people look through binoculars and you see what they are supposed to be seeing, it's always a sort of figure-of-eight on its side that you see, but whenever I look through them I see more or less a perfect circle" (p.152).

Frank's misogyny makes sense. The characters have scottish accents only when drunk. Little attempt is made to explain the father's behaviour. Fair enough. The last page or 2 of wrap-up isn't needed.

Typos - "someobdy" (p.133). "Almost I had succeeded" (p.127)

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