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This review is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

Cover of Okay Mr Field
Gabriella AttemsPoetry and the Novel
Katharine Kilalea, Okay Mr Field (Faber) £12.99;
Caoilinn Hughes, Orchid and the Wasp (Hogarth) $26.00

Two Carcanet poets launched their debut novels around the same time last year, but Okay, Mr Field and Orchid and the Wasp are like night and day. While the first meanders meditatively through architectural space, the second piles action upon the page in an act of pure dynamite.

There’s a thrust to Caoilinn Hughes’s writing already apparent in the long lines of her first collection Gathering Evidence (2014), a book especially designed to accommodate these. Her prose deploys that same momentum of speed and urgency.

Orchid and the Wasp, which was shortlisted for the Butler Literary Award, is loosely based on the title giving concept by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. But philosophy doesn’t weigh down the novel. At some point, while in New York, Gael Foss, the novel’s central character, meets her father in a café decorated with orchids. A wasp sting too makes a brief appearance as part of a simile. Both motifs flash at the conflict underlying the narrative: who takes advantage of whom?

From the novel’s opening pages, Gael Foss will polarise her readers:
‘Just imagine it,’ she said. ‘Louise. Fatima. Deirdre Concannon.’ She pronounced their names like accusations. She snuck the tip of her index finger into each of their mouths and made their cheeks go: pop. pop. pop. ‘I did mine already with this finger,’ she said. The girls flinched and wiped their taste buds on their pinafores.’

We meet Gael as adolescent girl in up-and-coming Dublin and follow her through ...

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