Reading: Iain Banks — The Wasp Factory

This is where my reading of Iain Banks (with or without M.) started and then paused for quite some years. I picked it up in Shakespeare & Co. a week ago, along with the prize discovery of Raw Spirit, the only remaining work of his besides the one just published I’d not read, and despite working 12+ hour days have managed to finish both of them. This is a problem, because it’s a Sunday night and I have no unread books.

I read The Wasp Factory while living in Auckland. I have no memory of the circumstances that led to reading it, nor even the house I was living in, which would help pin it down a bit more, but anyway, let’s say mid/late-teens and be done with it. I do know that it profoundly affected me, and having not re-read it in all these years it’s assumed some degree of mythical proportions. I was lying on a bench at Hubertuswarte in Lainzer Tiergarten today, boots off and airing, feet cooling down, sweat evaporating, shaded by the line of trees beside the trail, nearing the last third where that brilliant, horrific, sublime, “What Happened to Me” is revealed, and wondered if perhaps the intervening years would cause me to regard this denouement in an entirely different light. Which would be an appropriate moment for the word Schadenfreude.

I’d forgotten all of Eric and What Happened to him, the burning dogs, the Sacrifice Poles, the details of the Factory, the childhood murders, the Bomb Circle, Old Saul, Jamie, the island itself, pretty much everything, but Frank, I hadn’t forgotten Frank at all. After all, we have the same name.

This reprint (close to the fortieth) has an introduction by Iain, where he writes,

Beyond that, it was supposed to be a pro-feminist, anti-militarist work satirising religion and commenting on the way we’re shaped by our surroundings and upbringing and the usually skewed information we’re presented with by those in power. Frank is supposed to stand for all of us, in some ways; deceived, misled, harking back to something that never existed, vengeful for no good reason and trying too hard to live up to some oversold ideal that is of no relevance anyway.

I was thinking of this nearing and arriving at the end, and how succinct and eloquent this is, and that in the mid-’80s, when feminism itself was still firmly mired in the Second Wave essentialism and pervasive anti-trans women bigotry, it was a 30 year old heterosexual male who understood feminism and wrote a truly feminist work. Thirty years later it doesn’t miss a thing. It should be on every feminist, queer, trans reading list, and in spite of the deranged horror that is Frank, I’m glad we share the same name.