As a member of First to Read, I am able to read and review galleys. Caoilinn Hughes’ ORCHARD AND THE WASP was my first selection.
I found that the book 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.