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Orchid & the Wasp

A Novel
Narrated by: Caoilinn Hughes
Length: 12 hrs and 56 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"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.

©2018 Caoilinn Hughes (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Hughes delivers a compelling exploration of what it means to create art, skewering the arbitrary restrictions of art-world gatekeepers along the way. At the emotional heart of this book lies a darker question, though: What does it mean to make a performance of your own life, in service of your family, when the cost might be to lose them forever? As strange, musical, and carefully calculated as its unusual heroine." (Kirkus)

“Orchid & the Wasp is a gorgeous novel told in an onrush of wit and ferocity. Art-forging, smack-talking, long-distance-running Gael Foess, three times smarter than everyone around her, proves to be an unforgettable heroine, and her journey will rattle your most basic assumptions about money, ambition, and the nature of love. Caoilinn Hughes is a massive talent.” (Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See)

“A razor sharp wit and an astonishing psychological and emotional perceptiveness combine to yield uncommonly rich portraiture in this bracing book by a deadly talented writer, in prose so refined one slows to savor each beautifully unfolding sentence. Unsentimental, yet sneakily moving and given to surprising bouts of joy, Orchid & the Wasp becomes a referendum on the resiliency of selflessness in a contemporary world steeped in the logic of ambitious self-advancement.” (Matthew Thomas, New York Times best-selling author of We Are Not Ourselves)

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Breathtakingly beautiful prose

I was not surprised to learn that Ms Hughes is a poet. The language of this novel, it’s cadence, it’s word painting, makes it worth every moment of listening. I wanted more.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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The "other" Milkman

This book hit my radar as as a possible Man Booker nominee, and it's a shame it wasn't nominated - especially with books like Snap and Sabrina on the list. Though nothing like "Milkman", it was enough like "Milkman" that if both books were on the list it would have been puzzling. If that makes any sense. I'm in the love-camp on "Milkman" by the way.

This is a remarkable novel. Hughes is obviously bright and talented. The writing stellar, the characters (FLAWED) and interesting, and the story kept me enthralled the whole way through. Gael is snarky and at times misguided (or properly guided but mis-actioned), self-absorbed, complicated, loyal, funny - you know ... human. The family dynamic is fraught, dysfunctional, complex, you know ... human.

Music is a central theme in this book - reminding me of another Booker nom, "Do Not Say We Have Nothing." In that book the music aspects really bored me, but in this book I felt they came to life.

I think (and I could be wrong) those who didn't love "Milkman" would like this one better. I feel like there was more going on both with characters and story, and can't imagine this being called "boring." I'd love for one of my non-Milkman-loving friends to read it and let me know.

I ended up doing the audio on this, which was read by the author (immediate inward groan) - she was fantastic. Very talented in many areas. Probably a lot like Gael.

This book wasn't perfect, there was a caricature or two, an annoying plot point here and there, and times when the story felt a bit bogged down, but for me they were easy to overlook and I ended up loving it.