Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

This book is not approved by animals
I'm very fond of my old brass alarm clock. Once I tied a wasp to the striking-surface of each of the copper-coloured bells on the top, where the little hammer would hit them in the morning when the alarm went off.
I always wake up before the alarm goes, so I got to watch.

Because I brought this up in my 10 Favorite Books post and then saw it for mere five dollars at Elliot Bay Bookstore, I had to reread this monster.

I was interested in seeing whether it was still as disturbing to me as it was when I first read it over a decade ago: I had watched a lot of horror movies as a kid and read a large portion of Stephen King's catalog by the end of my teens, but nothing had quite prepared me for the nausea and terror when I read The Wasp Factory. It is true: I did have to put it down every few pages to read some Hitchhiker's Galaxy to remind myself that happy thoughts still existed in this world. I had completely forgotten how short this book was because in my memories it took me way longer to finish it; it was just all the breaks I had to take and how intense this book is. The paperback version I have now is mere 184 pages.

This time I read The Wasp Factory in two days during commutes. Apparently it had made me such an impression that the reading experience was barely any different than ten years ago: I wasn't quite as disturbed because I already knew everything, but it didn't make reading the story much easier. This time, though, I didn't not need Douglas Adams as my crutch.

I'm partial to Banks's writing style, and even in this horrifying story he's in his element with descriptions that are surprisingly vivid in their brevity without ever going for the clichés. It's actually quite amazing how he can write so well about things so deplorable, which is probably why I like this book so much: there's such craft involved in knowing what is truly unsettling to people without resorting to a gorge fest. There is hardly any blood in this story.

The Wasp Factory is the story of Frank, a teenager living in a remote island off Scotland with his father. Right off the bat we know he's not quite there: his everyday life is filled with superstitious rituals that usually involve slaughtering small wild animals in order to foretell the future. When he finds out that his older brother Chris has broken out of a sanitarium and is on his way back to the family in a wake of burning buildings and dogs he must consult the dead beings. While Frank waits for his brother's arrival he tells us about all the murder and mayhem surrounding his family; a paint-by-numbers picture that is slowly filled in before our eyes, making us understand faster than Frank himself does the reasons for his actions.

Just pick up this book if you are intrigued; do not read anything about it because it's one of those books where your reading experience will be ruined if you know all the plot twists. There are moments in the story that now, upon second reading, I should have really seen coming from the deliciously placed foreshadowing elements, but then again... the story is so enthralling in its grossness and weirdness that I would have needed not to be completely taken by it to coolly analyze its content while reading. And that would not have been fun. Just let this book happen to you. That is, if you like to be horrified every now and then.

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