We are transported back to Dublin during the economic crisis a decade ago, where Gael Foess is age 11, living in Dublin with her brother Guthrie, and her Mum and Dad. The period and the apparent greed of people may have shaped Gael's disrespect for institutions. She is an intelligent, articulate, opinionated and dislikeable child, and not much better as an adult. Gael moves to London for her degree and then New York to pursue her avaricious career in the art world. I thought perhaps the Orchid-Wasp metaphor and assemblage, were to do with Gael and her art-world career. Possibly the lines start to blur as art gets corrupted. She operates alongside beautiful inspiring art while also stealing, manipulating and conning people and situations around her.
Guthrie is Gale's frail and reserved brother, one year younger than Gael. He has seizures and the family convince him it’s a result of epilepsy, treating him with placebo drugs in order to hide the real diagnosis of a somatic delusional disorder. The novel progresses in time periods, years apart, and the story goes into great depth with topics and issues that are sometimes interesting and sometimes ramble. Guthrie’s illness is ultimately used as a leverage by his opportunist sister and the big plan is enacted.
Caoilinn Hughes has written a character-rich, poetic story, that at the time left me searching for a meaning in the book. From the Orchid Wasp metaphor, I knew there was a deeper question being explored. I discovered after reading the book, directly from the author, that the intent was to examine the concept of, 'is it really exploitation if the loser isn't aware of what they're losing'. It is a context more inspired by the Orchid Wasp metaphor than validating it, which now makes much more sense to me.
There is no doubt that Caoilinn is a superb author and her writing skills are destined for prize-winning recognition. In nearly every page, there is prose you want to highlight and return to again and again. Put together in a book, I just didn’t feel it was engaging, cohesive and evolving, which is a strange paradox.
Many thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.