Orchid and the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes

Orchid and the Wasp

Caoilinn Hughes

Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp examines how we inevitably fail our families despite our best intentions, and how our lives can turn us into people we would never have imagined.

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"A gem of a novel." ELLE

"A winning debut." The New Yorker

“Caoilinn Hughes is a massive talent.” – Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See

An unforgettable young woman navigates Dublin, London and New York, striving to build a life raft for her loved-ones amidst economic and familial collapse.
In this dazzlingly original debut novel, award-winning Irish writer Caoilinn Hughes introduces a heroine of mythic proportions in the form of one Gael FoessA tough, thoughtful, and savvy opportunist, Gael is determined to live life on her own terms. Raised in Dublin by single-minded, careerist parents, Gael learns early how a person’s ambitions and ideals can be compromised— and she refuses to let her vulnerable, unwell younger brother, Guthrie, suffer such sacrifices.
When Gael’s financier father walks out on them during the economic crash of 2008, her family fractures. Her mother, a once-formidable orchestral conductor, becomes a shadow. And a fateful incident prevents Guthrie from finishing high school. Determined not to let her loved-ones fall victim to circumstance, Gael leaves Dublin for the coke-dusted social clubs of London and Manhattan’s gallery scene, always working an angle, but beginning to become a stranger to those who love her.
Written in electric, heart-stopping prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a novel about gigantic ambitions and hard-won truths, chewing through sexuality, class, and politics, and crackling with joyful, anarchic fury. It challenges bootstraps morality with questions of what we owe one another and what we earn. A first novel of astonishing talent, Orchid & the Wasp announces Caoilinn Hughes as one of the most exciting literary writers working today.

Advance Galley Reviews

I received a copy of this ebook from firsttoread.com in exchange for an honest review. I struggled alot to connect with this book, maybe its just not my type of book type. The writing itself was odd in places with lenghty, weird paragraphs and descriptions that dont seem to really have a purpose. On the other hand its the unique form of writing that makes this book something special, but the plot didnt really kick in until halfway through and at this point I already felt so out of touch with the characters that I ended up DNF'ing this book. Review by Nina Foltmar www.youtube.com/ninafoltmar

I love strong female characters, and unlikable main characters sometimes make for the best stories. Unfortunately, the graphic and unpleasant opening image of Orchid and the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes sets a tone that I cannot get past. I need a connection to develop with the characters or the story to envision the opening in another light. Unfortunately, that connection never develops. I am left wishing I could unsee that opening. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/09/orchid-and-wasp.html Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

While there's much to admire in this novel, it also bears all the unmistakable and regrettable hallmarks of being a debut. Much of it is overwritten, the main plot not kicking in until literally the halfway mark. There are weird tangential paragraphs, or whole sections, that bear no discernible purpose - one of the semi-major characters (Art) doesn't get a backstory till 20 pages from the end, at which point it's superfluous. Gael is supposedly a very sharp and intelligent person, yet she does incredibly stupid and inane things (like leaving her money unattended with the art forger, and throwing away her claim ticket at the hotel). Essential information is often either withheld or thrown in so offhandedly as not to make much impact - 100 pages on, I had to go back to find the sections first explaining just how Guthrie wound up with twins, which really isn't then explicated till 50 pages FURTHER on! A major plot point (Gael creating an exact duplicate copy of the painting she sells to Wally, to hang at the gallery showing), makes little or no sense, other than to crop up at the denouement. The 'love story' between Gael and Harper never quite rings true, and Jarleth's infrequent appearances blunt his overall importance to the philosophical underpinnings of the metaphorical title. And the whole Occupy sub-plot feels shoehorned in for no reason. But given all that, the book does have some terrific set pieces (Chapter 6, with Gael and Wally in the plane, is well-nigh faultless) and for the most part, Hughes' prose style is eccentrically beguiling. I'd give her an A for effort, and would be interested in what she produces next, but this is more of a miss than a hit.

I tried several times to start this book but it failed to hold my interest each time.

I just could not get into the book... I struggled quite a bit. Unfortunately, I had to DNF about halfway. It just wasn't for me.

A unique book but not really my cup of tea. I wanted to like it more than I did but I just couldn't find myself connecting with it. 3 stars.

"It's writing to discover. Not to be discovered." I received a copy of this ebook from firsttoread.com in exchange for an honest review. I really had trouble connecting with this book. I think the problem was honestly me - the writing is lengthy and full of details and the family dynamics are interesting and interconnecting throughout the book and the story is very character based but something about the writing made it hard for me to focus and I would put the book down and pick it back up and at times it felt like a slog. That being said the writing is part of what makes it unique. The story is intense at times and delves into close family bonds and life choices and I can absolutely see why some people enjoy it.

I have complicated feelings about this novel. It's well written and I was engaged throughout. I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. I love a book with an anti-hero, and Gael fits that description, as expected. I appreciate that the personalities of the siblings are far from stereotypical gender roles. The older sister is the ruthless opportunist and her younger brother Guthrie wears his heart on his sleeve. Unfortunately, none of the characters were relatable for me. The book itself has depth in how it portrays wealth, privilege, religious differences, gender roles, sexuality, ambition... there is a lot of context that is thoughtful and touches on important themes. At the same time, the characters themselves didn't come across with a lot of depth. I'd give this 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because I appreciate that this is not a typical formulaic work of fiction. Thank you to Penguin's First to Read program for providing me with an advance copy for review.

This book told the story of Gael Foess and the people around her. But, it never really went anywhere. She is kind of a terrible person and I know it's supposed to be a "coming of age" tale, but it's really hard to connect to in any way. I kept hoping for the story to kind of get to the point. The ending starts to wrap things up, but then leaves you going "not this again."

I appreciated the opportunity to review the Orchid and the Wasp. It is a part of why I have enjoyed doing this First to Read because it has exposed me to new books that I otherwise might not have picked up. I really enjoyed this book in spite of the fact that it was a really challenging book for me to read. It was a beautifully written story. The central character, Gael Foess, is a great character. She is a character that is not really likeable, but even so, her journey is really well worth the read. I also really loved Caoilinn's Hughes' writing. It is very true that her language is poetic and lyrical.

After several attempts to read the Orchid and the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes I just couldn’t get into the story. Thank you First To Read for giving me the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book.

My experience reading about Gael has been puzzling. I repeatedly put the book down in the first 100 pages, rolling my eyes, reading something else. Gael as an 11-year-old is odious, her relationships with the males in her life overly sexualized, both explicitly and in the rich metaphorical language that Hughes uses in lieu of Gael's missing humanity. But Gael grew and changed, and, while I never came to like her, I was intrigued by her, by the battle in her heart. And by then end, I was convinced that she's one of the most complicated, beautiful but ugly, generous but selfish, loving but incapable of loving characters I've seen. I see a lot of DNFs in the reviews here. But it was definitely worth sticking out. Gael's adventures, what she chases and sometimes even achieves, are unbelievable. The audacious, ambitious cheating that characterize sociopaths born into opulence. But despite her disdain, she does enjoy her mother's music. Fundamentally, she believes in her mother as a musician and her brother as an artist, and she detests her father as a cold-hearted capitalist. She loves, she hates, but can't seem to respect anyone for anything, even herself. Given the title, others may be tempted to figure out who's the orchid and who's the wasp, but I find that Gael is enough to contain both within her. The central conflict of this novel is within her. I couldn't quite make sense of Hughes' voice sometimes, in narrating Gael's story. The musical references were powerful and beautiful, but sometimes comical without a change of tone. Deadpan comedy? Probably. A famous up-and-coming conductor is described in all seriousness as a talented sarrusophonist. Guffaw. She complains about a terrible orchestra that the trombone players' arms are at different angles (yes, they're supposed to be -- observations like this one make for running jokes in the trombonist community). Are we making fun of Gael's ignorant disdain on this one? Or did Hughes not do enough research? Also, there's a point at which Gael refers to the counterclockwise direction of rotation of the shadow of a north-facing obelisk. There are so many things wrong with that sentence I had to put the book down for a while to let the protesting fireworks in my brain die down. Anyway, there were other idiosyncrasies, impossible visuals, and wrongness sprinkled throughout. Is it because as a 20-ish woman, Gael doesn't actually know as much as she thinks she does? Is it commentary or slips in the writing. Okay. I'm intrigued. I have to think it out. I think I've probably talked about this one a little too long at this point. Suffice it to say that it's thought provoking, if painful to read in places. A beautiful debut novel. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

When I read the description of this book, I was quite interested and felt sure I would connect with it but, sadly, I did not. While I did dislike the book overall, there were some strong points. Hughes demonstrates a clear ability to write about awkward and uncomfortable topics with vivid detail in a way that neither exploits nor glosses over the issue. I felt Hughes' portrayal of of Gael and her parents relationship, particularly the portion regarding why Gael's parent's had children to begin with, to be unapologetically devastating and poignant. Similarly, Gael's simultaneous frustration with and desire to protect her brother rang very true. Where the novel lost me, however, was in the language, plot holes and increasingly unrealistic nature of the story as it progressed forward. To say the author is verbose would be an understatement. It almost seemed as if the author was intentionally trying to use as many obscure words and references as possible in an attempt to impress the reader. In doing so, however, the novel almost becomes unreadable in sections. There were also several large gaps in the overall novel and the individual stories within it. The gaps made it difficult to maintain my interest in continuing reading because, just as I was becoming interested in a particular section of the book, it would end-- seemingly mid story. Of all my issues with this book, I found the unrealistic nature of the story to be the most disappointing, particularly because I found the start of the novel to be promising. Gael's removal from school, conversations with her parents and descriptions of a family car trip at the start of the novel were incredibly relatable in the sense that any person who has grown from child to adult has experienced odd and uncomfortable situations with their parents. Once past the initial first chapters, however, Gael's relateability, both in character and circumstance, disappears. The end of the novel as unrealistic and the beginning is realistic. Overall, despite a promising start, I was disappointed with the novel and would not recommend it.

It's a given that Caoilnn Hughes is a poetic writer. even though I didn't get to finish it I found Gael to be precocious from a young age. Then, as the story progressed an opportunist. It sparked my interest in the prose, sexuality, and her ambition. Also, I felt like I was missing something. I struggled to read it too, and the download expired before I could read anymore.

I really struggled with this book. From the outline, I was looking forward to reading it. I found the characters unlikeable. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it.

Caoilinn Hughes' ORCHARD AND THE WASP has three strengths that would appeal to readers who want to get lost in a land or situation that may be foreign to them: 1) its sense of place and setting 2) its universal themes; and 3) its poetic language. Hughes' tale of a fragile family begins in Dublin, Ireland, but the author—through the lens of protagonist Gael Foess—takes the reader on an unsettling adventure in London and into to some jaw-dropping scenarios in New York. The first time the author describes the setting of each of these places, the reader is treated to the attractions and flaws of each locale, a clear sense of place. Yet Hughes’ choice to connect these three vastly different places by weaving universal themes—family dysfunction, secrecy, deception, and wealth status—works. At the start of the book, Gael is living with her parents and younger brother, who suffers from a condition no one in the family initially understood. Hughes shows the reader that Gael is his caretaker since both parents are rarely at home because of their careers. When Gael's financier father leaves them during an economic crisis, her mother lapses into a depression, crashing her own career as a conductor for a professional orchestra. This causes Gael to take care of her too, or so that is her desire. It is the paragraphs about music that offer readers language that is lyrical and tight. For example, Hughes writes, "Chordal strokes and a pair of harps stippled like rain" (32-33). Later, Hughes writes, "This symphony? So brief...reduced...like something that's been boiling too long" (33). The changing point of view (sometimes it was Gael's and sometimes it was the all-knowing omniscient) might confuse or even put off some readers, but the satisfying ending is worth pushing through to get to the last page.

With a bewildering narrative tone, Orchid and the Wasp misses the mark for me. If this book and I met at the library, I would probably just smile and nod before politely walking away. Orchid and the Wasp and I are not simpatico. In that light, I'll keep this brief. My main issue with the novel is not in the concept—for I found the barebones outline to be interesting, or at least to have the potential for interesting. I don't know that I even minded the story overall. For instance, if this story were to be relayed to me in a discussion or over dinner, let's say, then I probably would've liked hearing about Gael and her life. No, my main point of contention was with the delivery. Hughes wrote this novel with a cadence and vernacular that I found confusing, unfocused, and incoherent. Honestly, it was like the damned thing was written in code in some parts. I can handle a dialect, written and structured to accommodate the phonetics, but this was a pervasive stab at something akin to Cockney rhyming slang mixed with an overabundance of pop culture references. And this is what made up the narrative! I needed those red secret decoder glasses. I don't know if it was a vague notion of trying for a poetic tone and missing for me, but this alone made the book nigh on unskimmable. The quippy slang-speak was exhausting, and all I could think of was Don Cheadle's character from Ocean's Eleven, Basher—with his horrific attempt at a London Cockney-esque accent. Basher: So unless we intend to do this job in Reno, we're in barney. [everyone pauses] Basher: Barney Rubble. [they look bewildered] Basher: [irritated that they don't understand what he is implying] Trouble!

I'm calling this novel a DNF for now. It's poetic prose is appealing, but I was not drawn in by its characters. Apparently, the title is taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a hybrid. It's a thinky concept, and perhaps I'll revisit with this in mind. Until then ...

Appropriate somehow to tackle a book with poetic prose as dense as ULYSSES with Bloomsday just behind us. Caoilinn Hughes is a poet, and her prose has the lyrical quality of poetry. It makes for a difficult read, however, not unlike walking through a thick swamp of words that string together so prettily but confuse the reader when it comes to telling a story. I still don't understand the significance of the title - ORCHID AND THE WASP. Gael Foess is a product of the Celtic Tiger and the crash that followed, wandering in search of the right hustle. Her family is not entirely supportive, and she turns down what help is offered by a father in the financial game. She protects, or tries to protect, her younger brother with mental health issues, using perception to finagle quite the payday out an art scheme she concocts for the money that's in it. At least I think that's the gist of it. The narrative doesn't quite flow as smoothly as you might like for a relaxing read, and the prose itself is so intriguing that you read without gaining any context. Not a book for everyone, but for those who like the stylings of James Joyce, this is worth considering. Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Orchid and the Wasp begins as Gael exhorts her classmates with “It’s our right to be virgins as often as we like.” Gael, ever the con woman, Guthrie, her younger brother, he the gentle bullied soul who has fits and believes he has epilepsy. And there’s Jarleth, the father who “parents” Gael and Guthrie while Sive, the famous conductor and absentee mother (absent both when she’s on tour and when she’s home). This is the Foess family. Focused on Gael and her misuse of power as she tries to care for Guthrie, when no one else does, we follow her across the Atlantic to New York with her cache of stolen paintings and watch while she absurdly gets involved in Occupy Wall Street while there (a bit of politicking thrown in when an Occupier says, “If corporates run our government, what happens when the CEO’s a fascist?”…”We surrender our democracy.”). I wanted to really like this book and Gael and Guthrie are good characters, but it’s a bit too smart or attempts to be for me.

As with other reviewers, I found the author's writing to be beautiful. But I just didn't get it. I found the description of the book amazing and I thought I would enjoy it. When I finished reading the book, I felt unfulfilled.

This was a very tough book to get through. I found myself wanting to stop reading at several points throughout. Once the story started talking about art, I decided to stick with it to see what would happen but I was disappointed with the way the book ended. I felt that Gael was just too flighty and not a character that I could relate to. It seemed that she wanted to be there for her brother but at the same time she seemed to be doing things for her own selfish reason. It definitely was not a book I would recommend.

Hughes' writing is beautiful—very detailed, a talented writer. However, I just couldn't get into the story. I had to DNF about 25 percent in. This will be perfect for some readers, just not me.

This definitely was a tough book to get into. Gael was definitely someone that is used to living life on her own terms, but in a way that alienates her from those around her. I struggled with understanding why she did the things she did, however did understand that a lot of what she did was because she genuinely cared for others in her life but struggles with intimacy. This was definitely not a book for people who are into simplistic characters. This author is definitely one to watch in the future. The style and description used was well done. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I am sorry to say that this is the first book from First to Read that I could not force myself to finish. I found the characters unlikeable, social issues ignored, parenting non-existent, and did not feel like I was learning anything to enhance my life by reading it. I did wade through the first third of the book before I just couldn’t pick it up again but felt that there was nothing to indicate a building up to a central point or plot. I like reading about dysfunctional situations, but felt that this one was just mean and hateful. Sorry, but I can’t recommend this one at all, very disappointing.

Unable to finish this book. Gael is an unpleasant and unrelatable character. One of few books I could not read.

Thank goodness it wasn't just me that thought this was too orchestrated(pun intended). I drudged through the first few chapters and thought this is one of the rare books I am not going to finish. I made it a few more before I finally gave up and skipped to the last chapter. Gael is too smart to do some of the dumb things she does. I think the book wants to be thought provoking, but it is just an overload of too many life/music comparisons and supposed wise proverbs and intellectual insight with not easily understood unique perspective. You get lost in all of it. I am glad I did not try to finish it after reading the other reviews. I am not alone. I do not recommend. Sorry, First To Read.

Hughes is a gifted writer yet I found the actual story strange and couldn't relate to the characters. Ultimately I decided the book wasn't holding my interest enough to try to complete it.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one,mostly because of the main character. Gael is an industrious, determined young woman whose actions are both awful and baffling. She lies, steals, and cheats to get ahead but her motivations are not entirely clear, which makes a lot of her actions hard to understand or excuse. The plot also feels a little stunted and is missing chunks that I'm curious about, that might explain why Gael does some of the ridiculous, cut-throat things she does. That being said, Hughes writing is descriptive and clear. Gael's brother, Guthrie is also confusing for how passive and good-hearted he is, her polar-opposite. Their parents weren't great, and the recession made life awful, but neither of those is enough to explain how damaged these too people are, which makes it difficult to find meaning in this story. I found myself longing for books about the secondary characters in the story instead, like Morgan and Art.

I read 100 pages of this book and then gave up. None of the characters were likable, especially Gael. I felt the point was made over and over that Jareth and Give were neglectful parents and I kept waiting for something to happen beyond that. The synopsis made it sound as if this was a book I would enjoy, but I was disappointed.

I could not get into this book. Another book based around a dysfunctional family. I never truly understood the characters. Very disappointed.

I have to say I was truly disappointed with this book. The title was intriguing but in the end I could not make a connection with the story line. The main character --Gael-- was a con artist from page one. I kept trying to make a connection with any of the characters but it just wasn't there. I did finish it but I was disappointed .

Perhaps I’ve read too many books centered around dysfunctional families, perhaps it’s because I really didn’t like the main character Gael but I could not finish this book. The prose is beautiful but too often I found it overwhelming; parts I couldn’t understand and I ended up skimming over much that I did read. Sorry first to read

The synopsis of this book sounded interesting and I love a good story with a strong female heroine. However, this book didn't do it for me. I was never able to connect with any of the characters and didn't care for Gael at all. While she was an opportunist, she wasn't a heroine by any stretch. I found myself struggling to get through the book since none of the characters captivated my attention either in a positive or negative way. Sadly, this was a disappointing read for me.

I really wanted to like this one but I just could not get into it :( The synopsis sounded really interesting, but I didn't really connect with Gael and lost interest every time I tried to read it. This one just wasn't for me. Thank you very much to First to Read!

I thought for sure when I read the synopsis it would be right up my alley but unfortunately I just never felt a connection with this book. I normally love books that explore family dynamics throughout the years and having most of the story take place in Ireland should have been an added bonus but I was bored for just about the entire book. I was never able to care about Gael or her family or what happened to them. Disappointing because I think the author does have talent, but this just wasn't a good fit for me. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy!

I liked the book when I started but hit a trigger for early on and was unable to finish the book. What I did read had me interested and into the story but it wasn’t enough to power through. This copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review.

I really wanted to like this one since the synopsis was intriguing. The writing was fine, but it quickly became apparent that the story just wasn’t for me. In the end, this one was a DNF. This copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review, thanks.


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