Is the Wasp Factory as bad as it seems?
October 29, 2007 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Does the book "The Wasp Factory" get any better or less upsetting as it goes? (Minor spoilers only, please.)

I picked up The Wasp Factory after it was recommended in this thread, and I've made it about 50 pages in so far. I'm an animal lover and a vegetarian, and the graphic cruelty in this book is making my physically ill, nauseous and upset.

I know that some people seem to think this book is great. I am trying to spend this year reading great books that do new things with language and form, but I have no respect whatsoever for the visceral reaction this book is eliciting from me.

Can anyone who has finished it tell me if it redeems itself at all? Should I continue reading? (Please don't spoil it, if it's worth sticking with.)
posted by croutonsupafreak to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It has a twist ending which I genuinely didn't see coming, even when I'd worked out that there was a twist it turned out I had it completely wrong. Anyway, it doesn't really get any less cruel but I don't think the main character is entirely unsympathetic. I'd keep going.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:22 AM on October 29, 2007

Well I like Banks but I've never been convinced that The Wasp Factory is a standout. I can't imagine you are going to start liking it if you don't already.
posted by biffa at 7:23 AM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, I should add that if you're only 50 pages in it probably gets quite a bit crueller but perhaps not with regards to animals, if that makes it any easier to swallow. I don't have a copy to hand so I can't say for sure which bits come where.

Do you like children? Ha :-)
posted by Ted Maul at 7:24 AM on October 29, 2007

And just for a third, I will always love Banks because his name's Iain and that's my name.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:25 AM on October 29, 2007

I'm going to say "no." It doesn't get any less disturbing. I read it years ago and still get a little churn in my gut just thinking about it. The thing with the kite still haunts me.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:25 AM on October 29, 2007

I haven't read that one, but other Iain Banks novels tend to be gory and violent, to the point that I have no further interest in reading him.
posted by Malor at 7:26 AM on October 29, 2007

Well, it kind of depends on what you mean by "redeems itself". Without going into too many details, I can say that there is not a hollywood-style happy ending (if that's what you're after).

I thought it was an excellent book - definitely difficult, but very well-written and powerful. If you can tell yourself that the cruelty is there for a reason, specifically to tell you about the characters and get that visceral reaction, you may want to keep reading.
posted by sluggo at 7:27 AM on October 29, 2007

I remember the book being very popular with my cohort in the tenth grade.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:32 AM on October 29, 2007

As you might guess from the username, I am a Banks fanboy. Embarrassingly.

TWF does not get any less upsetting, especially when you get to What Happened To Eric and What Happened To Frank. It's a good book, but it's supposed to be upsetting since it's told from the point of view of a violent madman.

Banks' books often have a real nasty streak, but if you want to try something less upsetting I'd recommend The Bridge or The Crow Road.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:35 AM on October 29, 2007

If you don't like it now, you won't. I think it's a good book, although by no means great. It isn't something you should feel compelled to read because it's revolutionary or extraordinary. It's just a novel, like thousands of others.

It is kind of influential as a harbinger of "shock fiction" which generally sucks.
posted by OmieWise at 7:36 AM on October 29, 2007

No, no. It gets no less visceral or upsetting. It's good, but like OmnieWise says, if you're not getting something worthwhile out of it so far, you can read other worthwhile powerful fiction instead.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:41 AM on October 29, 2007

You have to ask? I mean *really* ask? Surely if it is upsetting to you, you would make a choice not to continue reading it?

It's not worth the kind of negativity you describe - no book is; simply watching the news nowadays will contribute an unhealthy dose of nausea and upset enough...

Would you go and see a Damian Hurst exhibition? Perhaps, until you knew his works; then I doubt it very much - if I may be so bold, the same thing applies to books in my opinion. Iain Banks is one of those authors - 'Marmite like' ;)

If you can't find any redemption in either marmite or Hursts' works, then you are certainly not going to find it in Banks' writing.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 8:09 AM on October 29, 2007

I think I side with OmieWise. I loved it when I read it but I did so because I found the whole macabre scenario hilariously funny. If you can't reorientate yourself to just accept it as a piece of perverse fiction (ie. if you can't stop it causing you discomfort) then I don't think it is ultimately going to have been a worthwhile thing for you to persist with. It's not a "great" novel in any meaningful sense. I have recommended it to a few teenage guys before. They are the ones at whom this is aimed I think.
posted by peacay at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2007

Just as I was getting concerned that I found the book hilarious - thanks peacay
posted by Giant luck at 8:26 AM on October 29, 2007

I think it's an excellent book with a great ending with a hint of redemption.

But. There are certain images in the book that will stay with me forever. It ain't pretty. If it's upsetting you already, I'd suggest you don't continue reading.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:34 AM on October 29, 2007

I love Banks, and this is one of my favourite (non-M) novels of his. But if you're taking it literally enough to find it upsetting, you aren't going to find it any less upsetting as it goes on, and it does get "worse". The gore and violence in his books is there for good reasons, but that doesn't mean that they're to everyone's tastes, or that those good reasons really matter to people who find the gore too upsetting. There are other books of his which are less gory, like The Crow Road.
posted by biscotti at 9:01 AM on October 29, 2007

Yes, it continues to get more disturbing. I just finished reading it a few months ago and quite frankly didn't get it. The writing is okay in places, but the plot...nope. and the ending - I saw it coming a mile away, and it was like something you'd see in some B-movie. One of the worst books I've ever read.
posted by adverb at 9:15 AM on October 29, 2007

I quite enjoyed the book, but found the ending very disappointing. I didn't see it coming, but for me it didn't fit with the rest of the book and certainly didn't explain anything.
If you don't like it drop it. Or, man up and plough on, distress is character-building.
posted by greytape at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2007

It's a fantastic book and wholly unpredictable despite what adverb says. But the sociopathic protagonist is very disturbed and connects with life by manipulating insects, sacrificing animals and through other acts of violence against the creatures who co-habit his world. This runs through the whole book so if the first 50 pages are upsetting you should probably pack it in and try something else. However, the theme of the novel is essentially the examination of power and abuse and as such it may be one that you are interested in examining, possibly in respect to your love of animals and vegetarianism. If this is the case then grit your teeth and read on. Hopefully you'll be rewarded by new insight into the darker corners of the human psyche.
posted by brautigan at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2007

Yes. It gets more disturbing. Depending on what you find disturbing, I'd say it gets a LOT more disturbing.

I've given the book to a few people, and the one thing I can say is that it invariably get a strong reaction. Either people realized pretty early on that the book is not for them ("What the hell were you thinking? That book is terrible! I'm going to be having nightmares for weeks!"), or they love it ("Wow, that was incredible! What else did he write?").

For a new Banks reader, starting with The Crow Road might be a better idea...
posted by skaffen42 at 10:10 AM on October 29, 2007

It gets worse, much worse.... and the violence shifts from animals to humans (well mostly).

I think if you not into by the first fifty page I don't think you'll get it by reading on...

I read first read when it came out in my late teens when it first came out and thought it was amazing and started a life-long love for the author. But then I'd read and liked a lot of horror.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:15 AM on October 29, 2007

I think you will have a much nicer time with The Crow Road, which is positively jolly by comparison.

The thing about The Wasp Factory, is that not only does it get more disturbing, it's disturbing just how very disturbing it is.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2007

It gets more disturbing. The ending has a twist, but it is fairly...forgettable, to tell the truth. I read it and didn't find it particularly disturbing, though, just sort of boring.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:33 PM on October 29, 2007

I generally like Banks, but I wish I hadn't read Wasp Factory. It's the kite thing. Even now I'm forcing down that image, and I'll probably be forcing it down every time I see a kite for years to come. If you are the type that holds disturbing images in your head (particularly if you are the type that converts them into even more disturbing nightmares) then don't read any further.
posted by happyturtle at 1:52 PM on October 29, 2007

I was completely shocked by the ending, and I'm normally a very perceptive reader. I loved the book, too, by the way. I read it for the first time last year. The book doesn't become much less disturbing per se, but I think the payoff is worth it. It does definitely get *better* as it goes on, but to be fair, I was hooked from the start. If you don't like it after 50 pages, you may not ever like it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:58 PM on October 29, 2007

I picked up a remaindered first edition hardback of The Wasp Factory in London many years ago. Well I still have a reasonably good memory of the content of that book, yes it is disturbing. Walking on Glass is probably his second most disturbing book. I think the surreal and disturbing stuff may have been reserved for his sci fi (Iain M. Banks) books these days. I really enjoyed his most recent, the Steep Approach to Garbdale - in fact I was surprised how much given that it's pretty much a family saga.
posted by singingfish at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2007

Hmm, Walking On Glass is one I've read over and over again, but never the Wasp Factory. I think it's OK for you to skip it... I think newer Banks is less over the top in general- maybe try Look to Windward or Inversions.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:28 PM on October 29, 2007

maybe try Look to Windward or Inversions

Look To Windward is probably not the best Culture (SF) novel to read first, but Inversions is really good - not gorey at all (that I can recall - there is violence but it's not over-the-top and the most unpleasant scene I can remember involves a kind doctor treating an ill patient so nothing like The Wasp Factory) and pretty much stands on its own - in reality it's a Culture novel as well but if you haven't read a Culture novel before it seems to just be a medieval drama rather than a Culture/SF story. (Hope that makes sense).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2007

Look To Windward is probably not the best Culture (SF) novel to read first

There's a certain value in reading Consider Phlebas first, but only if you're more or less committed to reading more. If you want to try out Culture books, The Player of Games is a better introduction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2007

I agree with Xenophobe (I'm reading Use of Weapons again at the moment), but I must admit that, despite being a huge Culture fan, I just don't "get" Inversions. Look to Windward is excellent, but probably not the best of the Culture novels.

In terms of the original question, I was a bit nonplussed by The Wasp Factory. I'd heard it was sickeningly nasty but I didn't find it lived up to it's reputation.

If you want more "warm and fuzzy" Iain Banks, I'd recommend The Crow Road (probably my favourite Banks novel, M or non-M), Espedair Street and Dead Air. And for those of you who like Banks, I'd definitely recommend just about anything by Christopher Brookmyre, another scottish author who shares some vague similarities with Banks but is a little more light-hearted. In some ways. Although any mind that can come up with using a pressure jetwasher and a bucket of petrol as a flamethrower probably shouldn't be described as "light-hearted"...
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. I guess I'm just gonna stop reading.

I was trying to read the Wasp Factory at breakfast, and I had to stop eating, put the book down, and go into a room at the opposite end of the house before I could calm down. I've been talking and thinking about it all day, I think as a means to excise myself of the brutality.

I've never given up on a book because it disturbed me before. I've given up on books because they were bad, but that's another matter. But this one is just not for me.

I don't think I want to read anymore Iain Banks, though I am going to google for spoilers for this book when I get home. And then I'll find some other, less alarming 1980s-vintage story to get me through the week.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:57 PM on October 29, 2007

FWIW I would say that most of his recent work, particularly the non-SF stuff, is far more mainstream.

I think you could get a lot out of The Crow Road, or the experimental and much underrated The Bridge, without risking exposure to the sort of hideous ick you find in The Wasp Factory. The Crow Road is about a far nicer family.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:12 PM on October 29, 2007

What brautigan said about the reason behind the brutality is accurate. Banks rarely uses violence for the sake of violence, it's almost always used in order to explain something or define someone, and it's most often used in those contexts in a negative way. Not that this means you should read it if you're hating it, but the point of the violence in The Wasp Factory is to illustrate just how harmful violence and abuse of power are.
posted by biscotti at 6:35 PM on October 29, 2007

I guess I'm just gonna stop reading.

You definitely made the right decision.

You know how books usually have blurbs on the back cover with excerpts from glowing reviews? In the edition of The Wasp Factory that I read, the publisher had included a series of such excerpts, only they alternated between "this is complete and utter garbage" and "Banks evidently has a powerful imagination, but I can't recommend this book to anyone." Like a mental-health warning.
posted by russilwvong at 11:43 PM on October 29, 2007

I liked the wasp factory, but I would not ever recommend it to anyone who doesn't have some emotional callouses or a sense of clinical detachment. Anyway, I don't think any book is worth pushing yourself through if you don't like it. There is a lifetime worth of good books out there, and at least a couple years worth of great books.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:33 AM on October 30, 2007

« Older BikeFilter: I need remedial Presta valve help.   |   Best way transfer files Mac-to-Mac? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.