The Wasp Factory Summary

Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory

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The Wasp Factory Summary

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The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks, is told from the point-of-view of the protagonist, Frank Cauldhame. Sixteen-year-old Frank is living an on unnamed island with his father, Angus. The island is located off the Scottish coast. With no birth certificate or national insurance card, Frank’s status is not official. It is almost as if he doesnot exist. Angus insists that if he meets anyone, he must introduce himself as his nephew, not his son.

Angus keeps other secrets as well. He has a study that he keeps locked and warns Frank never to enter. This does not stop Frank from trying every time Angus goes out. Frank is certain his father, a former scientist, is conducting some kind of experiment behind that locked door. For all his secret-keeping, Angus seems to care about Frank. He is protective of him and cooks all of his meals.

Angus is not the only one keeping secrets. Frank has a routine of killing and harming small creatures, which he uses as parts of various rituals. His secret space is the third floor of their home, a loft inaccessible to arthritic Angus. Frank has named that space “The Wasp Factory.” To construct the factory, Frank used an old clock he salvaged. It is large enough that he has built corridors in it, lined up with each number on the clock’s face. In each corridor, he places a wasp. The wasps do not have room to fly so they must walk, seeking their escape to freedom. However, once they pass a threshold, they are killed in a variety of gruesome ways.

He uses The Wasp Factory to decide how he will treat people in his life. By age nine, Frank has murdered three people, including his little brother and two cousins—a boy and a girl. Whatever happens to the wasps dictates how he will murder or maim his next victims.Frank’s brother, Eric, lives in a mental institution at the beginning of the book. Frank misses him, but Eric escapes and makes phone calls to Frank throughout the novel. Witnessing a newborn baby without a skull and with maggots eating its brain triggered his insanity. This is not the only trauma the family has seen. At only three years old, Frank was attacked by the family dog, resulting in the loss of his genitals.

At the end of The Wasp Factory, Frank finally finds his way into his father’s study. What he finds there puzzles him. He sees a jar of liquid, in which is floating a tiny set of plastic genitals. In addition, he finds that his father has squirreled away male hormones among other mysterious items. Frank takes his findings to Angus, who confesses the truth.

Frank was born female. When the dog attacked, Angus took the chance to rid his life of females, and has been feeding Frank hormones daily so that when Frank is older, he would grow a beard. The hormones also prevented menstruation. Ultimately, Frank’s—or Frances’s—wasp factory was for nothing. Angus had taught hatred to his child without the need for mutilation and murder. The Wasp Factory ends with Frances reconnecting with Eric.

The effect of secrets on both the secret-keeper and the ones secrets are kept from is a major theme that runs throughout The Wasp Factory. Frank and Angus both keep secrets from one another, damaging the relationship they might have had as parent and child. Another theme that follows Frank throughout the novel is the presence of ritualism or obsessive behavior. Frank surrounds himself with animal heads on poles, and believes that they will warn him if someone intrudes into his space, showing his ritualistic behavior. Additionally, he speaks the same words each time he “consults” the wasp factory, and keeps trophies from his kills. His obsessive behavior is highlighted by his grooming habits, which are both meticulous and ordered by routine. Finally, the theme of murder is prevalent in The Wasp Factory. Frank is a serial killer of both animals and people. He keeps animal skulls in a secret, locked bunker. His human victims are at first chosen for revenge, then self-preservation, then just to satisfy his urge to kill. The question readers are left with at the end of the book is whether Frank would have been a murderer on his own, or whether it was Angus’s lies, deceit, and hatred of who Frank really was, that made him a murderer.

In 2013, The Wasp Factory was adapted into an opera, in which Frank was represented by a trio of female singers. Iain Banks was a Scottish author who began writing full time after The Wasp Factory was published. Other notable works of his fall into the categories of nonfiction, fiction, and specifically, science fiction. Before he passed away, his final book, The Quarry, was published.