The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From 5 stars, to 2 stars: a great concept, enjoyably written, that nonetheless lacked payoff (either emotional or plot-based). The ending hinged on a very unbelievable revelation that I couldn’t buy into and which didn’t wrap up all of the interesting elements that came before.

FULL SPOILERS AHEAD:

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In addition to all the weird madness going on with his psychotic brother and hideous father, the various animal torture and bizarre oddities product of damaged people, another plot runs through the novel. MC (Frank) has lived his whole life believing he is a young man who was castrated in a terrible accident. This event has shaped his life in a variety of ways.

However, at the end of the novel, Frank discovers that isn’t a castrated young man, just a mauled young woman whose father has been giving “her” hormone drugs in a kind of cruel experiment to raise her as a boy. Frank states that what s/he’d assumed was the stump of a penis was actually a clitoris, and this I find difficult to believe.

An anatomy lesson for those who somehow don’t know: I would expect most men/boys to have an awareness that they are supposed to urinate through their penis. Women, though, don’t urinate through the clitoris. So what on earth s/he thought was happening down there for every toilet trip, I have 0 idea.

Mostly, though, the novel fails to explore that revelation in (for me) a satisfying way. There’s a lot of mileage to be gained from examining that situation more, and the person Frank has become or could have been, but it’s not really delved into, and that’s a shame. That means, too, that the novel feels like it has no pay off, because the other aspects of Frank’s life (which are all intensely interesting in their own right) are left unresolved: the revelations about Frank’s sex come out of left field, and don’t tie up the character development or the unusualness of Frank’s horrific family.

The story suffers from one of my biggest pet peeves: it doesn’t end so much as simply ‘stop’ dead.

A real shame for me, because it started off strong and was only let down in the last 10% of novel. Particularly annoying since I feel it could easily have been a longer novel, and resolved those issues through more words (it’s quite a slim book, so hardly over-stuffed with story.)

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