The Wasp Factory
By Iain Banks
THE WASP FACTORY IN THATCHERITE BRITAIN
The history of literature has given us many novels on the theme of
gender and its versatility or apparent changeability, many
of them classics. So, by 1983, the year of The Wasp Factorys
publication, did we really need another? In short, yes, we needed The
Gender is the twist in the novel, not the theme, and as a consequence
it is one of the most original novels of the twentieth century
but that is not the only reason why 1983 needed this novel. At the end,
the disturbed teenage narrator Frank discovers that he was born a girl
and is male as a result of his fathers hormonal experimentation. This
throws Frank into an identity crisis, unable to function as a woman
he can live, he says, as a normal woman capable of intercourse
and giving birth I shudder at the thought of either.
1983 the United Kingdom was four years into Thatchers twelve
years as prime minister.
Unemployment was at a high, laissez-faire prevailed and society became
increasingly atomised. Dealing with the economy was done under the influence
of the works of Adam Smith, writer of An Enquiry into the Nature
and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, who set out the mechanism
by which he felt economic society operated. Each individual strives
to become wealthy intending to his own gain but to this
end he must exchange what he owns or produces with others who significantly
value what he has to offer; in this way, through a free market, public
interest is advanced. He made it clear in his writings that quite considerable
structure was required in society before his invisible hand
mechanism could work effectively and advocated to laissez-faire
view of politics and economics echoed in Thatcherism.
These days, the very name of Thatcher still manages to inspire the same
feelings of loathing and support as it did during her time in power.
She was the leader of the Conservative party from 1975 and came to power
in 1979, winning two further general elections in 1983 and 1987. The
main influence of Thatchers political philosophy was her parliamentary
colleague Keith Joseph, the key factor in this philosophy being the
importance of the market. She controlled the power of the Trade Unions
with a great deal of hostility, heavily regulating their terms of office
through new legislation. Under her power Britain began to move into
a deregulated economy and new services became more important than the
previously dominant manufacturing sector. Unemployment in her first
term soared to three million. No wonder, then, that people were struggling
for identity much like Frank in The Wasp Factory.
I was never registered he says I have no birth certificate,
no National Insurance number, nothing to say Im alive or have
ever existed. Thatcherite control also permeates and forces questioning
of the most basic and innate actions, as Franks even more disturbed
brother Eric tells him You dont have to sleep. Thats
just something they tell you to keep control over you.
The Wasp Factory aroused as much revulsion as it did acclaim
upon its publication could this be due to the struggle for Thatcherite
identity meaning the reader saw more of themselves in the child killing
Frank than they would care to admit?