The Wasp Factory is the first novel of Iain Banks who has written prolifically ever since. It is a black comedy with an unlikeable protagonist Frank who is a 16 year old eunuch living on a remote Scottish island with his father. Oddly, he doesn’t officially exist as his father has failed to register the birth and this is the first clue that something is seriously wrong with the narcissistic Frank. There is a “priest-like” quality to Frank’s rituals to protect his island and the similarities to Lord of the Flies at this point are quite strong imo. Eric, the brother, has a reason for being unhinged but the reader is more appalled by Frank’s lack of remorse for his crimes. It is said that the reader starts to sympathise with Frank as the novel progresses but I didn’t find this to be the case for me.

The novel is saved by a twist at the end.

Themes are:


mental illness

gender identity

Real life case:

David Reimer

In 1966, when David Reimer was 8 months old, his circumcision was botched and he lost his penis to burns. Psychologist John Money suggested that baby David be given a sex change. The parents agreed, but what they didn’t know was that Money secretly wanted to use David as part of an experiment to prove his views that gender identity was not inborn, but rather determined by nature and upbringing. David was renamed Brenda, surgically altered to have a vagina, and given hormonal supplements — but tragically the experiment backfired. “Brenda” acted like a stereotypical boy throughout childhood, and the Reimer family began to fall apart. At 14, Brenda was told the truth, and decided to go back to being David. He committed suicide at the age of 38.