Title: The Wasp Factory
Author: Iain Banks
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Format: Unabridged Audio Book
Length: 6 hours 11 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio UK
Audible Release Date: 06/08/2008
Taken from Audible
"Two years after I killed Blyth, I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, 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 that I was going through."
Enter - if you can bear it - the extraordinary private world of Frank, just 16, and unconventional, to say the least. ©2007 Hachette Audio
What seems like an age ago, (but what was actually October 26th 2011) I asked my Facebook for some book recommendations that would especially appeal to the gents. The Wasp Factory was the response I got from a few buddies who recommended it with a whole bunch of enthusiasm. So I made it a priority to spend one of my trusty Audible credits on the audio version of the book. In the last week I listened to it and I'm so glad my friends have such impeccably messed-up taste!
The Wasp Factory is a disjointed Bildungsroman which follows the first person protagonist, Frank Cauldhame, a sixteen year old Scottish lad who has had an odd upbringing. Listening to Peter Kenny's narration allowed me to be absorbed into Frank's narrative voice and get inside his messed up head. Frank is a character whose proclivities bend towards the violent. He has built his own sort of primitive ideology which he has come to rely upon in a way that he has never been able to rely on his family or his luck. But it's a system which works for Frank far more adequately than any sort of organised religion would; indeed he seems disparaging of beings which need "shepherding". He has a particular distaste for sheep and women, equating them at one point towards the end of the novel.
Frank's father is an introverted, secretive man who has his own peculiarities. He has a fondness for labelling household items with their capacities and measurements, which he tests Frank on instead of indulging in more rational, "normal" conversation. Frank's mother is an absent figure and we see that this (along with Frank's father's distaste) has added to Frank's dislike of the female of the species. This hatred is key to the narrative, but let's not spoil anything for you...
Frank's brother, Eric, is the character who fuels much of the book's conflict. It is his escape from a mental hospital which acts as the inciting incident of the book. Eric's evident instability (brilliantly voiced by Kenny) makes Frank seem more level. Our first person protagonist seems pretty normal next to his brother. I suspect that Banks might have been questioning the common consensus of exactly what "normal" is. After all, many of Frank's little hobbies might seem bizarre because of the way Banks gets his narrator to describe them in an obsessive, almost ideological way. But in truth, they are hobbies which any child (boys in particular, I suppose) might indulge. Didn't we all have little treasures that we thought of as talismans, and don't most kids get up to things that their parents might think of as a bit gross? Okay... so we don't all go around killing younger family members, but I think my point is still valid.
The plot engaged me in a way that reminded me of the time I read A Clockwork Orange. After reading that particularly insane narrative, I found my brain wandering off and thinking in Burgess' marvellously invented dialect. After listening-to/reading The Wasp Factory, I find my (evidently impressionable) mind thinking odd thoughts in a Scottish accent. It's not a very good Scottish accent... I'm not very good at accents (no matter what Michael McIntyre says!).
Overall, I loved this book. It is a short read (or listen), but it has something about it that demands you only nibble at it and chew on each little mouthful to savour the taste. I can see why it popped up when I asked for recommendations for the boys as I've never read about a character's toilet activities in such detail... is it judgemental for me to chalk that up as something a lad might giggle at? Sorry if it is, but I think Banks made certain aspects of his narrative overtly "male". Frank tries very hard to be seen as a manly man...
I'm not sure my review can do this book justice as I feel reviews shouldn't give too much of the game away. I feel like I could go back to my roots a bit and thoroughly enjoy analysing this book, quotes and bibliography and all! If that isn't praise then I'm not sure what is!
I'm giving this four and a half stars. I'm holding back half a star only because I guessed the ending at almost the very start of the book. Even so, I loved every second.
[Note: A huge thanks to Will, Raimy and Hannah, the FB friends who recommended this book to me! I'm glad I have buddies who enjoy a bit of madness...hell, it's probably why you're willing to be my friends in the first place!]