I was brought up in The Wasp Factory.
Well, not quite. My childhood in Argyll was, mercifully, rather less demented than Iain Bank's tale of Frank Cauldhame. Set along an unidentified coastline in the 1980s, near the fictional town of Porteneil, the transposition of Iain Banks' first novel to the area in which I grew up was beguilingly easy. Strung along the west coast of Knapdale in Argyll, the paps of Jura jutting out of the water, the community and the landscape populated Banks' narrative with familiar faces, erecting Frank's Sacrifice Poles on beaches I knew, in dead woods I hurried through. For his home, I recruited an unfortunate neighbour's house, bleached white.
In retrospect, it was my first encounter, ever, with a fictional narrative, recognisably connected to the experience and eccentricity of the sort of rural, west-coast community in which I grew up. I suspect many Scots have felt similar moments, transported by literature to somewhere they recognise, reconfigured - the thrill of Alasdair Gray's Glasgow in Lanark, finally "living in a place", imaginatively. For that, we have much to thank our artists, whether on paper, on stage or on screen. It is an oddly castrating thing, never having seen your own life reflected in art, and even odder that so many folk aren't sensitive to their own absence.
Perhaps more wonkishly, I also think fondly of the book as a recent period piece, a drama from before the internet age, a drama which the iPhone obliterates. Frank's malevolent innocence, ignorance and isolation can only be penetrated by unreflexive broadcasts on the telly, the settled texts and topics of books tucked about his father's house - and more explosively - the unexpected, unmanageable intrusion of the phone-box calls from Frank's ever-approaching brother, with his undercurrent of instability and inflammatory hostility to man's faithful friend. Although I was growing up in Argyll in the early 1990s, just riding the wave of computerisation and the popular availability of the internet after I left, I doubt now that Frank's experience of stultifying isolation, quirkily and troublingly layered by Banks, is a phenomenon most young rural folk could so fully identify with today. Although first published two years before I was born, in 1984, the world of The Wasp Factory was recognisable throughout my early adolescence.
I also recognised that my childhood had a certain unsettling, juvenile cruelty and morbidity to it, which Banks' protagonist only refined, amplified, and ritualised. We were bred up rather worldly on the estate about the bodies and mortality of our fellow creatures. Save for the ruddy, dented form of an unlucky fox, or a crusted summer toad, in towns such spent husks are pried speedily from the tarmacadam, so they won't trouble the city children.
Boys in the not-quite-wilderness, treading lonely beaches, we were surrounded by the stuff of life and death, and like Frank Cauldhame, found repulsion and curiosity both in the garrotted rabbit, choked under a foxglove, and righteous glee in planting a stone in the aspic flesh of a jellyfish. We were oddly fascinated by the punctured form of a deflated whale, headless, washed up, or the slumped carcass of a crack-backed sheep, unfortunate enough to lose its footing, a sagging putrefying aftermath of wool, claggy in a stream. And grateful for the warm bodies of pelleted pheasants, knocked out of the sky by tweedy gentlemen on cold winter days, and nervous in the hanging rooms, as decapitated deer bled out. Death was official, and organised, but also furtive, individual and exploratory. A ginger prod, a wrinkled lip, and the prurient curiosity of a little monster.
The Wasp Factory was a disturbing window into the savage strain of my own childhood. A wonderful - and wonderfully uneasy - gift from a talented man.