Saturday, 14 September 2013

Personal Project: The Wasp Factory

I have decided to embark on a personal project, the form of which I have been considering for some time. I am going to test my skills by designing and illustrating a book written by someone else, for my own personal enjoyment, and as a learning experience. At the end, perhaps, I will have a handsome product for my personal library, though, as I have not chosen a book that is out of copyright, I will almost certainly not be able to do anything commercial with the result.

The book I have chosen for this project is Iain Banks' debut novel The Wasp Factory. This is a book that has a lot of personal meaning to me, perhaps more so since Iain Bank's recent untimely death, which affected me quite a bit. Banks has been one of my favourite authors for a long time, since my early teens, when I fell in love with his science fiction novels. Since then, I have read almost everything that he ever wrote, and though I still love the science fiction work (and not just those that deal with the post-human, anarchist Culture) some of his non-genre works are the ones that stick with me. Of these, the one I always keep coming back to is The Wasp Factory.

The Wasp Factory is one of a series of Bank's literary novels that deal with gothic themes and are set, or partly set, in modern Scotland; these include The Bridge, Complicity and The Crow Road. It covers a period in the life of Frank Cauldhame, an eccentric teenage sociopath who lives with his subtly abusive father on an isolated private island. Frank manages to be both intensely unlikeable, by dint of his opinions and his actions (which include callous animal cruelty and the murders of three other children) and somehow identifiable. In interviews, Banks made it clear that the novel is meant to be read allegorically, with Frank standing, in a sense, for the western world, and in particular for the British state. His cruelty, and the elaborate justifications he produces for it, mostly stemming from a personal religion or system of ritual magic of his own devising, satirise the moralistic justification of barbarity and prejudice in the wider world. His attitude towards women, bound up in his own angst about his apparent emasculation, mirror those of wider society. This is never, however, allowed to become heavy handed, and the narrative progresses through a series of brilliantly imagined, darkly surreal imagistic set-pieces that, I hope, will be a joy to illustrate 

The most obvious part of designing any book is the cover. These are my first attempts towards it, none of them, I think, are the final thing.

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