Monday, September 10, 2018

Orchid and the Wasp

Title:  Orchid and the Wasp
Author:  Caoilinn Hughes
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1524761109 / 978-1524761103

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It's our right to be virgins as often as we like, Gael told the girls surrounding her like petals round a pollen packet."

Favorite Quote:  "And that is that we have a very simple choice to make. Do we aspire to have worth and influence and risk tragedy; or do we aspire towards love and togetherness and risk that it won't have been enough. You can't have both aspirations be equally weighted."

In the botanical world, certain types of orchids and certain types of wasps have a particular relationship. The structure of many orchids resembles that of female insects; the structure attracts male insects. A hammer orchid is pollinated by a thynnid wasp. The thynnid wasp female is flightless; copulation occurs when a male carries a female to a food source. The orchid mimics the attraction of the female. The structure of of the orchid is such that pollination occurs as the wasp attempts to carry the "female" away. The wasp is unsuccessful in carrying away the "female" but pollination occurs successfully as the wasp travels to another orchid to try its luck.

What relevance does a biology lesson have to this book? Maybe none at all. However, with such a title, I assume symbolism, and that has been confirmed in interviews by the author. The question is whether the main character is the orchid or the wasp. The further question is does it matter since both in this case seem to benefit from this interaction. Both use the other for their own purposes.

This book like many others is about a family. The father is in finance; he abandons his family and leaves them to fend for themselves. The mother is a well-known orchestra conductor but not much of a nurturer of her children. Both parents are busy living their own lives and are simply neglectful of their children. The son Guthrie thinks he is an epileptic but in actuality suffers from delusions; he is also an artist. Then, there is the daughter Gael Foess. She is the conniving hustler and the opportunist; she is an unapologetic young woman and sexual being. She is the heroine - or rather the anti-hero - of this debut novel.

The opening chapter of the book has two scenes that stand out more than the rest of the book. The book opens as Gael is trying to convince girls in her school of how they can be sexually active and yet still appear to be virgins. She is hustling a product. Later in the chapter, Gael watches her father masturbate in the shower; they then proceed to have a conversation as he cleans himself up and dries himself off. Gael is a teenager at this point.

From there, the book travels with Gael until she is in her twenties. It goes from Dublin to London to New York. It depicts her pulling away from and towards and away from and towards her family. That cycle I do understand. Our families, dysfunctional or otherwise, are our families whether it's love, approval, acceptance, acknowledgement, or redemption we seek. So it is with Gael

I love strong female characters, and unlikable main characters sometimes make for the best stories. Unfortunately, in this case, that graphic and unpleasant opening image sets a tone that I cannot get past. I need a connection to develop to envision the opening in another light. Unfortunately, that connection never develops. I am left wishing I could unsee that opening.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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