Iain Banks’s first novel is macabre, tending toward the grotesque and gothic. It is driven by an overwhelmingly obsessive first-person narration. Frank Cauldhame speaks coolly and calmly about strange events but is, at the same time, capable of humor, irony, self-analysis, and an objective view of his strange situation. He lives a ritual life, stocking his Sacrifice Poles with the heads of dead animals and then urinating on them, reading the omens of the Wasp Factory, or communing with spirits in the Bunker. He is aware of this, speaking of “my personal mythology.” He is also aware that life is filled with symbols, such as the alternative deaths represented in the twelve positions of the Wasp Factory clock face. Frank, his father, his brother, and the previous generation of Cauldhames (a name that may evoke “called home,” the action of Eric’s flight, or “cold home”) are classic Scottish eccentrics, apparently logical, orderly, and civil people whose lives are grounded in deeply perverse, violent, and twisted versions of reality.
At the heart of the novel is misogyny. Angus, rejected and partly crippled by his flighty, hippie wife, has tried to turn his daughter into a son, isolating Frank from the world and distorting her sexuality with drugs for fourteen years. Frank hates women, thinking them weak and stupid, a conclusion derived on the surface from watching television but probably based on being abandoned by his mother and by his own...
(The entire section is 453 words.)