The Wasp Factory

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The Wasp Factory was the first novel by Scottish writer Iain Banks. It was published in 1984.



It is written from a first person perspective, told by sixteen-year-old eunuch Frank Cauldhame, describing his childhood and all that remains of it. Frank observes many shamanistic rituals of his own invention, and it is soon revealed that Frank was the perpetrator of three deaths within his family - all other children and all before he reached the age of ten. As the novel develops, his brother's escape from a mental hospital and impending return lead on to a violent ending and a twist that undermines all that Frank believed about himself.


The 'Wasp Factory' of the title is a huge clock face encased in a glass box and salvaged from the local dump. Behind each of the 12 numerals is a trap which leads to a different ritual death (for example burning, crushing, or drowning in Frank's urine) for the wasp that Frank puts into the hole at the center. Frank believes the death 'chosen' by the wasp predicts something about the future.

There are also Sacrifice Poles, upon which hang the bodies and heads of larger animals, such as seagulls, that Frank has killed and other sacred items. They define and 'protect' the borders of Frank's territory - the island upon which he lives with his father.

Frank occupies himself with his rituals and an array of weapons (from his catapult, to home-made flame throwers and pipe bombs) to control the island. He goes for long walks and runs, and occasionally gets drunk with his dwarf friend Jamie in the local pub. Other than that, Frank has almost no contact with the world outside his island and admits he is afraid of it due to what it did to his brother, Eric.

Frank's older brother Eric is in an insane asylum after witnessing a tragic case of neglect in a hospital where he was training. He escapes in the start of the novel and throughout the book rings Frank from phone boxes; informing him he is coming to visit. Frank is confused as to whether or not he is looking forward to seeing Eric, but it is clear Frank loves his brother dearly. Frank constantly refers to his older brother as being extremely sensitive before "the incident". After a long build-up, which comes to define the book, we discover "the incident" which occurred to drive Eric insane.

Literary significance and criticism

A 1997 poll of over 25,000 readers listed The Wasp Factory as one of the top 100 books of the 20th century.[1] But as a first novel by an unknown author, the book was initially greeted with a mixture of acclaim and controversy, due to its gruesome depiction of violence. While this is mostly against animals, Frank also recollects killing three younger children when a child himself. The murders are described in an honest and matter-of-fact way, often with grotesque humour; what may be more disturbing than the details of the violence itself is the depth and intensity with which Frank is portrayed. What is also most shocking about the novel is the fact that the reader actually starts to sympathise with and even like Frank despite his monstrous, psychopathic actions.

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