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The Wasp Factory


Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory
average rating is 4 out of 5

Horror, Extreme, Disturbing

R. Alex Jenkins

Authors that try too hard to shock can sometimes leave you cold, like thin soup made of excreta with no meaty bits in it, no solid foundations, just hammer blows to the head. This is sordid enough to build up the depravity and leave you wanting more, to see how far it goes, to discover what's in certain rooms and why other doors are permanently locked – making for intense reading. You know it's going to get worse, but to what extent? To American Psycho levels? Live rats fed into human intestines? Kind of!

Iain Banks has a tendency to go and on about menial events and describe mundane situations in too many ways by thrashing out the dialogue with over exuberance. He certainly enjoys writing! Being descriptive doesn't detract from the enjoyment and only inflates the word count, but who needs concise editing when you’re as good at explaining things as this? I wish it was a bit tighter and less rambling in places. How many times do we need to be told you’re going for a piss?

How much of this book is drawn from personal experience, such as specific information on weapons, explosives and modes of torture - as though any of that matters? We get our inspiration where we can, from sources deep within, or through research, or through fertile imaginations.

Definitely sick in execution, but not as disturbing as it wants to be, sometimes coming across like a bored and nasty Huckleberry Finn who’s stopped being nice, probably building the next Frankenstein’s monster (or its mate) in a shed on some far-flung Scottish island, with way too much time and resources at hand. Think about the dysfunctional trolls of parents who leave their kids to their own devices, about society that doesn't give a shit about anything but itself, with children unsurprisingly going off the rails and doing crazy things. It’s how interesting books get written too.

There are some lighter elements: being able to tell what was drunk the night before by smelling farts, plus some beautiful prose in places:

"She talked to the flowers, I recall, as though trying to persuade them to show themselves and be collected, broken and bunched."

Another minor criticism is the lack of character development of the victims, who seem more like cannon fodder than people to care about. A story about a juvenile sadist massacring everything in his wake, with not enough backstory to make you feel anything for the dead or abused. People die every minute of the day in wars, explosions, MURDERS - nothing more than newspaper articles that mildly shock but leave you cold. A nasty diatribe from the viewpoint of a teenage nutter, told as a riveting read, fun to witness, but with not much to really care about.

The author's skill and fluidity is important though, to get on with it and not be pretentious. The plot isn’t strong enough to absolutely RAVE about, but anything that grabs me and needs to be finished in a few days is worth 4 stars.

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