4. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks (100 book challenge)

I’d never heard of this book before I saw it on the 100 must-read book list. It sounded intriguing so I decided to make it the fourth read in my 100 book challenge.

It’s received extreme mixed reviews, and now I’ve read it I can understand why.

It’s a story about a teenager, living with his dad on an island in Scotland. From page one, I was thrown in a bizarre world of murder, cruelty and revenge. Banks’ point of view is set deeply into the mind of the sixteen year old character, which gave the book a layer of innocence and helped me connect with the main character – despite his actions.

The title was intriguing enough to make this my next read

The title was intriguing enough to make this my next read

I always like the idea of telling a story from a different point of view, and this book allowed me to get into the head of someone who, because of his upbringing, interacts with the world in ways that make you sick to the stomach. But it is all hidden beneath the surface – the people who meet the main character and his father probably wouldn’t suspect anything untoward happening on the island.

Which got me thinking. In any given day we pass hundreds of people, all with their own lives and upbringings. I guess we like to assume that most people are not secret cruel murderers, but this book made me question that. At one stage of reading, I was so drawn into this crazy world that I started to wonder whether it was safe to leave the house! I was having dreams of deformed bodies and secluded islands and burning fur…

This book really affected me!

Which, in a way, is every reader’s goal: to cause that emotional response.

The other three books I’ve read haven’t done this.  Hitchhiker’s Guide didn’t have the depth to give a lasting response, although I did have a laugh every now and then. Parts of Brave New World got me thinking, but it wasn’t emotionally driven. And Hamlet was a good story but it certainly didn’t consume my thoughts in the way the Wasp Factory has.

The mixed reviews of The Wasp Factory are interesting. On the back of the version I borrowed from the local library, there’s the usual few quotes from well-known publications. But the funny thing is that they’ve listed both the good and the bad:

"Rubbish" and "...nor do I recommend it." are clearly bad reviews - so why did they put them on the back of the book?

“Rubbish” and “…nor do I recommend it.” are clearly bad reviews – so why did they put them on the back of the book?

I like the (slightly humorous) approach the publisher has taken here. List the absolutely brilliant reviews among the terrible ones. Stand proud knowing that not everyone liked it.

I believe it’s these polar responses that make a good book a fantastic book. As a writer, you can’t please everyone, and it’s probably not something you’d ever want to do. In order for people to absolutely love a book you’ve written, you need others to hate it. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes it successful.

And obviously that’s what gets it listed in the top 100 books you must read before you die.


In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.


Filed under 100 book challenge

8 responses to “4. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks (100 book challenge)

  1. Pingback: 100 book challenge – my running tally | Jessie Ansons

  2. Pingback: The reminder (Friday Fictioneers) | Jessie Ansons

  3. Great review of ‘The Wasp Factory’ Jessie … I haven’t read it but you’ve definitely piqued my curiosity. Interesting reflections on the use of polarised responses. When I look at the back of a book, I’m not at all surprised to read remarks such as ‘brilliant’, ‘promising’, ‘compelling’, etc – it seems quite the norm – but ‘rubbish’, ‘not recommended’ and the like certainly make me wonder why. And yes, I think the reviewer who has made those remarks has had a strong ’emotional’ response, one way or another.

    • Thanks for your comment, Di. Yes, please give the book a go! It’s been a few weeks now and I’m still thinking about this book – so the author is obviously skilled at making an impact.

  4. Marg jackson

    I admire your commitment to reading the 100 books Jess even those that affect you like this one did and make you cringe. I had never herd of this book and after your review I don’t think I want to read it..

  5. Sounds like an intriguing book Jess. I think you’ve swayed me to read it so that I can see for myself. Well done on your quest to read through the list … keep going!

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