My first reaction after finishing The Wasp Factory was to gently set the book down, walk away, and ask aloud, "What the hell did I just read?" For the strength of that reaction alone I'm glad I gave this book a spin. It's now been a day, and though I'm still not entirely certain what I think of this book I am certain it was well crafted. This was my second time reading Banks (the other being one of his sci-fi Culture novels), and I'm once again struck by how immensely readable I find his prose. Even when the subject matter is unappealing I find his books engaging and difficult to put down. (Though also occasionally hard to pick back up as well.)
I'm not going to rehash plot points - there are many other excellent reviews that have covered that ground. I'll just say this is a book centering around a young adult with some serious mental and emotional issues. I was reminded a bit of Nabokov's Lolita in that both stories are told from the perspectives of disturbed individuals, yet they were told so well I found myself sympathetic even while recoiling. That takes some serious writing chops. And while the story itself revolved around many topics I found repellent, for example the torture of animals, I never felt like it was gratuitous or there only for shock value. Even more interesting perhaps are the echoes of childhood that reminded me of Harper Lee. Strange comparison, to be sure, but the way Frank interacts with his island, naming landmarks and building his own world, did remind me somewhat of To Kill a Mockbird. And as for the titular wasp factory itself, well, I won't spoil it but it felt so authentic I found myself entranced.
All in all, did I like it? I'm not sure. But I do know I'll remember it. It was chilling, thought provoking, and also somehow disturbingly nostalgic. I can truthfully say I've never read anything quite like it. Tackle it at your own risk so long as you don't have a weak stomach.