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Iain Banks (1954 - )

Related: transgressive literature - 1900s literature - British literature - macabre

The Wasp Factory (1984) - Iain Banks
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Iain Menzies Banks (born on February 16, 1954 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland) writes mainstream novels as Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks. Banks studied English and Philosophy at the University of Stirling. He lives in North Queensferry, a town on the north side of the Firth of Forth near the Forth Rail Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iain_Banks [Jan 2005]

The Wasp Factory (1984) - Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory was the first published novel by the Scots author Iain Banks. It was written from the first person perspective, and commences as a narrative reminiscence by an adolescent, Frank Cauldhame, describing his childhood and all that remains of it, whilst gradually and subtly eliding into a depiction of contemporary events as the novel develops.

Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow.

It was considered by many literary critics and reviewers to be controversial when first published in 1984, due to its depiction of extreme events, which although perhaps not particularly graphically violent were gruesome in that they involved a child killing another (three to be exact). These scenes are remembered by the narrator rather than portrayed directly, and with hindsight may be judged as no more inappropriate than the death of Piggy in Lord of the Flies. The description of events is both frank and matter of fact: this calm and detached form underscores the very mundanity of the evil which Banks is writing about.

The narrator's psychopathic brother, Eric, what he does, and what happened to him to precipitate his plunge into utter insanity is, however, an altogether darker and explicitly nastier proposition.

The novel, it can be fairly safely said, works largely from the position of grand guignol, yet it acts on a number of levels. That this is a political novel wrapped up ostensibly in the form of a horrific bildungsroman is indisputable: it was written during the bleaker years of the Thatcherite reinvention of Britain as a corporate plc. The miners strikes, unemployment, cutbacks in social services and healthcare, and generally the rollback of the welfare state were cutting what seemed to many people a grim swathe through the country. Banks, an acute and sensitive writer with an unerring finger on the pulse of things, explores the situation with a caustic eye. The first paragraph of Chapter Four makes the political dimension to the novel explicit:

Often I've thought of myself as a state; a country or, at the very least, a city. It used to seem to me that the different ways that I felt sometimes about ideas, courses of action and so on were like the differing political moods that countries go through.[..]

It is also a novel which deals with Banks' sceptical attitudes towards organised religion. Frank is obsessive about ritual and the form of things; the Wasp Factory of the novel's title is a sadistic killing machine which Frank has devised for the purposes of divination. He also has a series of Sacrifice Poles erected in the dunes of the island on which he and his father live alone; attached to the poles are the dismembered corpses of the creatures which Frank has killed during the course of his day to day activities. The Sacrifice Poles are both talismanically protective and divinatory in intent.

The novel further orients itself around the nature of power and about the abuse of power. The deception of Frank by his father, one of Banks' central themes, (a concept dealt with more fully in The Crow Road), and the blind propensity of individuals to self-deception, are accentuated in the final chapters of the book when new facts which are brought to the narrator's attention overthrow much of what has been said before, and the reader is forced to completely re-assess the opinions formed about the narrator. It is not, as one may readily discern, an easy novel to read, but for all its manifest flaws is perhaps the finest and most thoughtful British novel of the last quarter of the 20th century. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wasp_Factory [Jan 2005]

Complicity (1993) - Iain Banks

  • Complicity (1993) - Iain Banks [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    An engrossing thriller in which all the murder victims apparently deserve, if not their cruel fates, at least a reckoning, leaving the hero (and the reader) with a guilty sense of admiration and appreciation for the clever serial killer. Scottish novelist Banks (Canal Dreams, 1991, etc.) takes as his protagonist Edinburgh journalist Cameron Colley, who smokes too much, drinks too much, plays seriously with hard drugs, and is addicted to computer games. A mysterious informant is feeding him just... -- From Kirkus Reviews

    Complicity is a novel authored by Iain Banks (ISBN 0349105715). Its two main characters are Cameron Colley, a journalist on a Scottish newspaper called The Caledonian, which resembles The Scotsman, and a serial murderer whose identity is a mystery. The passages dealing with the journalist are written in the first person, and those dealing with the murderer in the second person. The events take place mostly in and around Edinburgh.

    A motion picture called Complicity (or Retribution in some markets) based on the novel was filmed in 2000, with scenes filmed in Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth (particularly Inverkeithing, Queensferry, and Inchmickery), and in Dunning, Glenturret, Kippen, Lochgoilhead, Lochailort, Glen Coe, and on Rannoch Moor.

    Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
    Sensitive readers should be warned that the book describes several sadistic murders in a fairly detailed manner. Banks has claimed in an interview that Complicity is "[a] bit like The Wasp Factory except without the happy ending and redeeming air of cheerfulness," and The Wasp Factory is quite a macabre book itself. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complicity [Nov 2005]

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