Like Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, The Wasp Factory is twisted, abnormal and deranged. It follows the life of the rather disturbed Frank Cauldhame, a teenager who lives alone on a secluded island in Scotland with his manic father. In the attic of his home, he has built a Wasp Factory. This is a strange device, consisting of a dial and traps, that confines a wasp and kills it depending on what part of the machine it enters. He believes the factory can tell the future and even talks to his creation. However, this is not the most absurd part of the story at all. Frank has killed three people: two cousins and his younger brother. In the village nearby, mothers tell their children to behave otherwise ‘Frank will get you’. His excessive frustration and fury with the world has stemmed from a horrific incident that he underwent as a child. This attack is a central part of the story and is the major clue to the shocking twist that is finally revealed at the end of the novel.
Yet, compared to the rest of his family, Frank seems perfectly sane. His older brother, Eric, has escaped an asylum and is making his way across the United Kingdom and back to Scotland, killing and eating dogs along the way. His Father is tyrannical, oppressive and cruel. He is a mad scientist type, ambiguous and unsettling. His relationship with Frank is practical and formal, lacking any form of love at all. Subsequently, Frank is lonely, helpless and confused. His anxiety is particularly clear when he explains that he can’t leave the island for too long or else a great sense of panic overwhelms him. The factory is his attempt to take control and create order in his otherwise anarchic, tumultuous life. Frank is building a fantasy world that he can possess to make up for the confusion in his own existence.
Throughout the novel, Frank has been fed lies and as a consequence, he has built his entire identity on a matter of fiction. The theme of appearance vs. reality permeates the story, especially due to Banks’ use of an unreliable narrator. The bewildered reader has no idea what to believe.
This book is brilliant. It is fast-paced and surprising and grotesque and absorbs you as you turn the page and enter a world unlike any other. I felt such sympathy for Frank and thought of how isolated, confused and alone he was with no support or any love at all. The ending was mind-blowing and despite there being a few hints along the way, I still gasped. I would definitely recommend to anyone that is looking for a contemporary, haunting, bizarre gothic tale but it is not exactly a light, pleasant book to read.
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Have you read The Wasp Factory? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!