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?A Gothic horror story of quite exceptional quality…macabre, bizarre and…quite impossible to put down.?
The above quote is the response of the Financial Times to the best-selling novel, ?The Wasp Factory?, and in my opinion, truer words were never spoken. I myself had to force the book out of my hands in the early hours of the morning on several occasions. This clearly says something about the sheer power of Iain Bank?s debut novel. Whether you love it or hate it, once you have read the first page you are instantly struck by it?s brilliance. Throughout this essay, I intend to explore the mind and characteristics of the main character, Frank Cauldhame.
Throughout the story, Frank?s character is brought out through his experiences, of which the most important are possibly the three murders he commits. I am not going to explore how he commits these terrible crimes, but rather why.
Frank?s first victim is his cousin Blyth. He kills Blyth for a relatively simple reason, revenge. Blyth killed Frank and his brother Eric?s rabbits using a makeshift flame-thrower, which Eric had built himself. Eric is completely destroyed by this. So, a year later, Frank decides to settle the score with his cousin. Blyth had an artificial leg, and this was what gave Frank the chance to get even. One day, Frank and Eric, their younger brother Paul ( who is later killed ) and Blyth are lying in the sand. Frank goes for a walk to the Bunker and inside the dark, cold concrete pillbox , he finds an adder. He decides what he is going to do almost instantly. He catches the snake and bundles it into an old tin can. He then returns to the place where he left his cousin and brothers, and puts the snake into the artificial leg. Blyth?s death is slow and painful, and to Frank, this seems very appropriate. The way he sees it, Blyth deserves to die feeling similar agony to that which his rabbits must have felt, and Frank feels no remorse. He tells Eric that he ?thought it was a judgement from God that Blyth had first lost his leg and then had the replacement become the instrument of his downfall.? Frank then proceeds to name the area where Blyth was killed as ?The Snake Park? This statement is an early indicator of an essential feature of Frank?s character, and that is his belief in symbolism and destiny. We find another example of this when we analyse the death of Frank?s younger brother, Paul.
Frank?s reasons for killing Paul are very different than his reasons for killing Blyth. While he kills Blyth in an act of hateful revenge, he bears no ill will towards Paul. He in fact likes his brother, and got on well with him, so you may ask why then did he feel the need to dispose of his brother. Well, according to Frank, the main reason that he and his brother always got on so well was because he ?knew from an early age that he was not long for this world,? so Frank had tried to make his time as enjoyable as possible. Paul is killed by a German bomb that was uncovered by a powerful storm the night before Paul met his tragic end. However, right up to the end, Frank is very kind to Paul. His death is quick and painless. Frank tells Paul that the bomb is a bell, and if he hits it hard enough, a sound will come out. So, Frank runs to the top of a nearby dune, Paul hits the bomb, it explodes, and Frank?s murder tally rises to two. Frank?s main reason for killing his brother at this time is that he feels that finding the bomb is not only an opportunity, it is a symbol, a sign that he must obey.
So now to Franks third and final murder, that of cousin Esmerelda. The reason that Esmerelda dies could be seen as petty by many people, but to Frank, it is valid. Frank kills Esmerelda because she is a girl. He feels that, since he has already killed two boys, he owes it to the world to balance it out a bit, and Esmerelda is the unfortunate female that has been chosen to be disposed of. The most interesting detail about the murders that Frank has committed is that he really believed that he wasn?t doing anything wrong, and this is also true of the murder of Esmerelda. When he kills her he feels absolutely no remorse about it. However, to Frank it is not about the act of killing, it is about his reasons for it. He actually says:
?It did cross my mind that she might actually get across the damn thing and hit land before the wind dropped, but I reckoned even if that happened I had done my best, and honour was satisfied.?Frank also does not grant Esmerelda the same courtesy as he extended to his brother Paul by allowing her a quick death, he intentionally gets her caught in a huge kite and floats her away over the north sea. This is probably due to his initial reasons for killing his cousin, and he probably does not believe that she deserves a painless death. He is not killing her just because, like his brother, it was the time, he is doing it because he has to reset the balance, and her death should be more symbolic than just a quick explosion.
Discovering and also interpreting Franks obsessive and hugely powerful mind is one of the things that makes ?The Wasp Factory? such an incredible novel.
A technique which adds further enjoyment to ?The Wasp Factory? is the Scots dialect which is employed by Banks throughout the novel. This ties in with the Scottish setting for the story, and this dramatically adds to your enjoyment as a reader. The story is set on a tiny island just outside the town of Porteneil in Fife. This is a very important part of the novel because it means that, as he describes where he lives, as a Scottish reader you really know what he is talking about, because you may have seen it yourself, and the use of Scottish language draws you into the novel as you can easily tell what is going on, which is helpful for such a complicated novel. The language creates an incredible atmosphere around you as a reader. You feel as if you are right beside Frank throughout his incredible adventures, and this is a very important part of a story about a young mans life and experiences. It is not enough to simply read ?The Wasp Factory,? you have to feel it and be a part of it. It is more than just a novel, it is a journey through the mind of an obsessive sixteen year old boy, where you learn to look at the world in a different light. This experience is especially profound for a Scottish reader because of the incredible perceptive use of dialect and setting.
I will conclude with a powerful quote from the novel:
?All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in. The strong make their own patterns and influence other people?s, the weak have their courses mapped out for them. The weak and the unlucky, and the stupid. The Wasp Factory is part of the pattern because it is part of life and-even more so-part of death. Like life it is complicated, so all the components are there?I hope that this has provided you with a final insight into the twistedly genius mind that belongs to Frank Cauldhame, and also, Iain Banks.
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