I’m going to start this review by saying that I don’t think this book is for everyone, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Reading the blurb, some people might be instantly put off. But, from my point of view, how could you fail to be intrigued by a teaser like this?
“Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and I don’t intend to ever again. It was just a phase I was going through.”
Frank, as you may have realised, is a troubled young man. The fact that he’s already killed three people, however, isn’t actually the only odd thing about him. A solitary child who lives on a remote island with his father, he has little contact with the few other people that live around him, and keeps himself occupied with protecting the island and his way of life, devising weapons and rituals in order to do so. This has been particularly important to him since his older brother Eric was committed to an asylum, after seemingly being driven mad by his contact with events in the “outside world.”
“The Wasp Factory is beautiful and deadly and perfect. It would give me some idea of what was going to happen, it would help me know what to do.”
When this book was first published in 1984, it was met with much criticism, and thinly veiled disgust. Its graphic portrayal of violence and the mater-of-fact way that Frank describes his crimes was seen as quite shocking. And it is. But what I think is more prevalent is the fact that as I read on, I started to feel sorry for Frank. As more about his life and the circumstances of his upbringing are revealed, I started to realise that he has no real concept of the fact that what he does is particularly abnormal. He does nothing with any real malice or an enjoyment of inflicting pain. He lives by a religion of his own devising, and if he doesn’t follow the rituals, the word as he knows it will end. He has been forced to create an environment in which to live, and as you read you discover that an environment was also created for him by those he trusts. Is the violence within him innate, or is Frank a product of the world he grew up in?
The Wasp Factory is, if nothing else, a landmark book that probably fitted quite well into early 1980’s culture. To me, it was intriguing and unpredictable. Exactly what I like in a book.