It’s summer 1980, Northern Scotland, and 16 year-old Frank Cauldhame lives with his reclusive father on a small family-owned island. Frank is certainly unlike most other 16 year-olds; he has a preponderance for torturing animals, blowing things up and killing children.
The story is told from Frank’s point of view and his narration explains how he felt the deaths were necessary to “keep the balance of things”. These unfortunate events are gradually revealed one by one as Frank recalls his unusual upbringing and his “accident” when he was three.
Meanwhile, Frank’s brother Eric, certified insane, has escaped from a hospital south of Glasgow and is on his way north to visit his family, burning and eating dogs along the way.
Despite this bleak, dark, story, Banks manages to tell a gripping tale, and the details of Frank’s island and the surrounding firth are beautifully described. The story comes to an impressive conclusion with more than one surprising family secret revealed, although it’s still hard to have sympathy for Frank. Even though he rationalises his actions, he is still evil.
The wasp factory of the title is an insect killing machine Frank uses as a sort of fortune teller – a helpless wasp goes in, and depending on which way it travels and how it meets it fateful end, Frank alters his own actions. And I guess this is the message that I will take from this book. Just like the wasp that can change its’ journey through the machine, thankfully so can we. Oh, and I’m especially glad that I didn’t grow up like Frank.