cover image Orchid & the Wasp

Orchid & the Wasp

Caoilinn Hughes. Hogarth, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6110-3

The freewheeling first novel by Irish poet Hughes (Gathering Evidence) is dominated more by character than plot, but the determined, daring central character is worthy of the spotlight. The episodic narrative follows Gael from the age of 11, when a scandalous business proposal to her fellow classmates at a Catholic school (to market fake blood capsules for the purpose of faking virginity) gets her invited to “take her depraved influence elsewhere,” through to age 20, when she returns to Ireland after an eventful few months in New York City. With a symphony conductor mother, a financier father, and a pious yet troubled younger brother, Gael has family drama to spare. Fond of both art and money, she concocts a scheme to scam the New York art market. While there, she gets involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The book bounces from one extended passage in its heroine’s life to another, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. While the other characters don’t have Gael’s depth, a few emerge from the crowd. These include Gael’s sensitive brother, Guthrie, who is more resilient than he first appears; her London Business School roommate and potential love interest, Harper; and Wally, the wealthy codger with whom Gael spars on the flight to New York. Hughes’s breezy approach, clear love of language, and endearingly flawed central character contribute enough charm to compensate for a not entirely credible plot. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (July)