*one of my ongoing series of blog posts that looks at the books I read*
One of the many books on my reading list (here) has finally been read (well, actually re-read, if you're being technical). And it comes highly recommended.
Iain Bank's The Wasp Factory was written in the early 1980s, but its themes are still relevant today. I first read the book over six years ago, and I was both fascinated and shocked by what I had read. The book is clearly post-modern, and, thus, doesn't shy away from any of the difficult subjects that it approaches.
The book centers around sixteen-year-old Frank, who lives on an isolated Scottish island with his father, Angus. His mother, Agnes, has long abandoned her family, and thus, Frank has grown up without any female influence. As a result, Frank feels a deep distrust--one that borders on hatred--towards women.
Frank, who finds solace in killing mice, birds and other small island animals, believes in a sort of religion that he made up; he has created the Wasp Factory out of an old clock face. When a wasp is put into the Factory, it must choose one of twelve ways to die. Based on the wasp's choice, Frank believes the future is then foretold. Frank also goes through a nasty phase in his younger years where he decided to kill three of his family members--his male cousin, a younger girl cousin, and his younger brother (Paul). Needless to say, Frank is not your typical 16-year-old boy.
Furthur complicating Frank's life is the fact that his older brother, Eric, has escaped from a mental institution and is working his way back towards Frank and their father. Yet, the central conflict is not between Frank and his brother's impending arrival, but rather between Frank and his desire to figure out who he is. According to family lore, three-year-old Frank was accidentally castrated by his father's bulldog one hot, summer day. Thus, Frank feels that he is only half of a man, and thus, only half of a person. But has Frank gotten the entire story?
The book isn't long--just over 200 pages--and it reads quickly. Some of the things that Frank discusses and sees are difficult to handle (for example, he blows up several rabbits in one of his imaginary wars, and Eric burns a dog), but they are worth powering through for the sake of the novel. The ending is incredibly satisfying--and completely unexpected!--and makes Frank reconsider everything about himself, his life and his beliefs.
If you like this book, you might also like:
- Peter Shaffer, Equus
- Martin Amis, Time's Arrow
- Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites
- Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers