A sixteen year old protagonist with a propensity for violence against small animals and a weird fascination for rituals, who describes his murders committed as a child as ‘going through a phase.’ A recently escaped lunatic brother who set dogs on fire and forces kids to eat maggots. And a troubled relationship with the father that revolves around power. In the hands of a master storyteller, these are the ingredients for a brilliant satire tinged with psychological and philosophical implications. Unfortunately, Iain Banks in his first novel is far from accomplishing that distinction.
Having said that however, The Wasp Factory is not entirely without merit. What you cannot deny Banks are his fertile imagination and his black humour. Despite the graphic violence, his writing is at times funny, and his ideas inventive. However, the main complaint I have is that he opts too often for shock value and witticisms instead of exploring the inner psyches of his characters and the dynamics of their relationships. As a result, the entire story remains rather shallow and unsatisfactory, as I found myself yearning for a better understanding of the characters and their motives, and the plot never exceeds the level of a mediocre slasher. The fact that his ideas contained so much rich potential in the first place only made it more disappointing.
Until the end however, I retained some measure of hope that the revelation would resolve some of my nagging questions, but that turned out to be an even bigger disappointment than the rest of the book. After doing a decent job of building up anticipation, the conclusion just fell completely flat on its face. The twist was laughable (unintentionally in this case); it felt forced and completely detached from the preceding events, and in the end I was left wondering what the point was of the story. A harsher fate is scarcely imaginable for a book that supposedly tackles so many important subjects.
This review may not have been all that positive, but I will still be looking forward to reading his other works, including his SF works. He did show some potential in this novel, and has shown he is not afraid to stray from the beaten path, a trait that needs to be treasured even if it didn’t work out too well in this case. Seeing that he is still a prolific writer with quite a following, I have plenty of hope that he has been able to deliver on his potential in his later novels.