I first read Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory back when I was starting university ( so this would be 1998) At the time I was trying to get my hands on controversial literature ( All of Irvine Welsh’s books , Crash , The Story of O etc etc) At the time I loved the novel. It had everything I wanted back then, gruesome deaths , black humour and unpredictability. Thus as a 33 year old , would I still appreciate it?
Well I did look at it differently.
Frank is a 16 year old bent on destruction. He has murdered three people and kills animals for shamanic purposes ( his wasp factory being part of this) His insane brother has escaped from an asylum and is planning to visit him. In the midst of all this Frank starts to questions some strange things that are cropping up in his life and is determined to get to the bottom of these mysteries when he does find a secret about himself.
Back then I just thought the Wasp Factory was written for its shock factor but really its about the male gender and how it is a myth , Frank’s emphasis of his manly qualities are just a build up to the apocalyptic (and stunning) conclusion. Probably the book’s only fault is that it does veer off in places a little too quickly (the scenes with Jamie are complete waste of time imo) , in fact the story becomes thrilling when Banks does stick to the novel’s storyline
I would say that Banks has written better and more consistent novels ( The Crow Road being a fave) but they don’t have the punch The Wasp Factory does.
I tend to find Iain Banks a bit of a dodgy author. Some of his books are great ( The Wasp Factory , Walking on Glass) and some are contrived verging on the mediocre ( I think that Whit is the worst offender here) Thankfully The Crow Road is on of the better novels.
Essentially this is a family saga told (mostly) through the eyes of young adult Prentice McHoan. After the death of his grandmother (and an opening sentence which has been quoted from ad nauseaum) Prentice decides to dig into his family roots and uncover some secrets which have been bothering him for a long time, the top priority being Prentice’s Uncle Rory’s disappearance.
As Prentice starts investigating his past starts to become clear and slowly he does find out about his Uncle’s disappearance. In the process though he has to go through the deaths of some more family members in order to grasp his roots clearly.
The Crow Road is a slang for death and there is a fair number of corpses in the novel but, say unlike, The Wasp Factory, each death reveals something new to both Prentice and the reader. Mind you there’s life and love as well , which is what keeps a family going. By the end of the novel Prentice learns about his own role within the McHoans and the two their families he’s connected to the Watts and Urvils.
I have to admit that I did tackle this novel back in 2005 and I didn’t like it at all. I found dry and lacking the grotesqueness of The Wasp factory or Complicity but after this re-read I found it to be quite addictive and, best of all it’s not a novel where you can predict the outcome ( which is one big fault with Banks’ later novels). Although I wouldn’t suggest this one as the first Banks, The Crow Road is definitely one of his strongest to date.