“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 Foess. A 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.
About the Author
CAOILINN HUGHES is an Irish writer whose poetry collection Gathering Evidence won the Irish Times Shine/Strong Award. She is a fellow of the James Merrill Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Tin House Workshop, and has received a Literature Bursary Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Granta, POETRY, Best British Poetry, BBC Radio 3 and elsewhere. She divides her time between the Netherlands and Ireland.
Praise for Orchid & the Wasp: Shortlisted for the 2018 Butler Literary Award Library Journal: "Best Summer Debut Novels"
“Ireland produces a new literary star at a rate of one a month, it seems; first among equals for 2018, however, has to be Caoilinn Hughes.” — Irish Echo
“A winning debut novel...Hughes, a poet, touches the prose with a comic wand… Orchid and the Wasp delivers a fantasy of competence, the kind that is in dialogue, if not always complete agreement, with morality.” – Katy Waldman, The New Yorker
"A gem of a novel about the way we live now." – ELLE
"You won't forget Gael Foess." – NPR.org
“Luminous… sparkles with acuity and concision.... [Gael] is an indomitable, highly adaptable character who can navigate through tumultuous times and wildly disparate environments with ingenuity and grit.” – Los Angeles Review of Books
'This arch début novel's ... satiric impulse—toward art-world hypocrisy, late capitalism, heterosexual love—is unsparing and ambitious' – The New Yorker
"A remarkable, propulsive debut novel ... No precis can adequately convey the novel’s startling, impressionistic prose, nor its corrosive humour. Jewels of observation glitter amid the earthy gags. ... Exuberant ... it zings with energy, ambition and daring." - The Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Caoilinn Hughes’s debut novel, Orchid & the Wasp, has the fluid gait of something alive...At once exuberant and incisive, Hughes’s writing escapes simple characterization while somehow remaining welcoming...This is not simply a coming of age tale, nor is it an experiment in narrative philosophy. What is it, then? I’m not sure, other than that it’s something new." – Taylor Lannamann, Tin House
‘Extraordinary... This is a difficult novel to do justice to, for it is brimming with ideas, and the pace of their arrival and quality of their treatment is noteworthy... Orchid represents an exciting first step into prose for Caoilinn Hughes.' – Oxford Review
"Hughes has created something special in Gael, who is her own woman in a way we don’t see often enough in books: brave, complex, fractured, intelligent, resourceful, ruthless and unforgiving... Orchid & the Wasp is this year’s Conversations with Friends...Hughes casts her unique gaze, her artistic, analytical and emotional intelligence, on ... our capitalist world and the personal, political and social ramifications implicit in our acquiescence to, or indeed, championing of, its values." – Irish Times
"Orchid & the Wasp, by Caoilinn Hughes, is making waves because it is fiercely bright and moves like a bullet train." – Sebastian Barry, bestselling author of Days Without End, for the Irish Times
“Orchid and the Wasp is a hugely entertaining novel full of wit, intellect and sharp observations... Akin to Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends,Orchid and the Wasp is a modern female coming-of- age story... Caoilinn Hughes is definitely one to watch.” – RTE Culture Magazine
"Not since Paul Murray's Skippy Dies have I read such an original Irish novel... Dazzling, heady fiction. Hughes is an award-winning poet and it's barely concealable. She simply dances on the page, her imagination is riotous, her flawed characters have shape and colour and sometimes heartbreaking humanity." – Irish Independent
"Caoilinn Hughes is an award-winning poet and her background in poetry shines through Orchid & the Wasp's audacious and meticulously crafted prose. It's a mesmeric, immersive, often hilarious reading experience, driven by the force of the imagery-rich writing and the cast of distinctive characters.... Gael is a fresh and fascinating picaresque heroine - admirable, reprehensible, empowered, bisexual, containing multitudes, the kind of woman rarely depicted in fiction.... Her high-wire act is exhilarating to witness, as, throughout the novel, is Hughes's own." – Sunday Independent
"Hugely ambitious and richly inventive." –Irish Examiner
"Caoilinn Hughes’s highly ambitious fiction debut contains multitudes. … Kick-ass, whip-smart and with “a tongue like a catapult”, Gael belongs to a venerable tradition of feisty heroines. … Some serious intellectual themes are explored: the crisis of late capitalism; the redemptive power of art and love; free expression in sexual matters; and much else besides. But maybe most strikingly, Gael Foess makes a telling contribution to the unlikeable female narrator debate… readers are going to love her." – Sunday Times
"A remarkable debut novel ... intellectual fiction that provides a bracing and occasionally withering account of upper echelon Irish life." – Sunday Business Post
"The novel showcases Hughes's talent as both a shrewd student of character and an astute observer of contemporary life ... [introducing] one of those literary characters whose life is so vividly depicted it's easy to imagine it continuing beyond the last page of this refreshingly honest novel." – Shelf Awareness
"Hughes’ sharp and, at times, hilarious observations call to mind the unblinking writing and dysfunctional families not only of Jane Austen, but also Christina Stead and Jonathan Franzen. Orchid & the Wasp is a deceptively entertaining novel about merit and ambition, society and responsibility, and self-determination and fate, in which Hughes upends expectations and asks big questions, especially about obligation and love, without breaking stride, even for a moment." – Readings Monthly
"The excellent debut novel from Irish poet Caoilinn Hughes sees a compelling female protagonist navigate social upheaval in the wake of the financial crisis, as well as dealing with a complex family life.... The novel also has a Franzenesque flair for showing the interconnectedness of western society." – Hot Press
“Debut novelist Hughes, an award-winning poet, employs wry, crackling prose to proffer existential questions about what constitutes a meaningful life…. This inventive book will entice readers who prefer the ambiguity of questions to the simplicity of answers.” – Library Journal
“[A] visceral and electrifying debut … in Gael, Hughes has created a mesmerizing and compelling force.” – Booklist
"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 bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
“Though the stories she tells work their way through elaborate worlds, it is her characters, detailed with sharp and subtle grace, which power the engine of Caoilinn Hughes's vivid prose.” – AMELIA GRAY, author of Isadora and Gutshot
“Caoilinn Hughes has given us an unforgettable character in Gael – an unflinchingly wise and wise-cracking guide through our fractured times. Hers is a story that holds the fun-house mirror to the society we have built of greed and twisted finance. From the doomed Irish boom to the Occupy movement, the novel lays bare the impoverished spirit that led to economic collapse while providing us a path out of it. By turns poetic, hilarious and raw, this novel gives us hope that love and the retrieval of spirit are not only achievable, but worth pursuing to the very last sentence.” ― ANA MENÉNDEZ, Pushcart Prize-winning author of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
“Orchid & the Wasp is an ambitious, richly inventive and highly entertaining account of the way we live now. Caoilinn Hughes writes with authority and insight, and her novel is as up-to-date as tomorrow's financial-page headlines.” – JOHN BANVILLE, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea "Orchid & the Wasp is a tremendously engaging novel, brimming with sparky humor and astute observations. Caoilinn Hughes' prose fizzes with wit and intelligence. A joy to read." – DANIELLE MCLAUGHLIN, Saboteur Award-winning author of Dinosaurs On Other Planets
“Gael, the young heroine of Orchid & the Wasp, is a magnificent and assured creation, breathtakingly smart, never self-pitying, impossible for others to manage, my favorite discovery this year. Hughes's characters are rare, like no one you've read before. This is an entirely original novel, dazzling and beautiful, disturbingly cold and insistent.” – DAVID VANN, bestselling author of Bright Air Black and Aquarium
“In lush, envy-inducing prose we’re introduced to Gael Foess, the spikiest adult-in-training since Lolita, who has parents worthy of a Roald Dahl novel, in their poor caretaking efforts and self-absorption. We can only hang on in wonder as we witness the savvy Gael’s progression through life from such beginnings. Caoilinn Hughes’s crafted, intricate language is a joy and her characters strut their many flaws with panache. Orchid & the Wasp is an up-to-the-minute, radiant début from a deeply talented writer.” ― NUALA O’CONNOR, author of Miss Emily
"Fresh, playful and exuberant: Hughes has arrived with a heady style that is full of surprise and invention.” – PAUL LYNCH, Prix Libr’à Nous-winning author of Red Sky in Morning
"Caoilinn Hughes is the real thing - an urgent, funny, painstaking and heartfelt writer. Orchid & the Wasp is a startling debut full of the moral complexity, grief and strange bewilderments of humanity. As the world spins ever more quickly in response to the demands of grifters, parasites and liars, this book offers a troubling, beautiful and wise response." – A.L. KENNEDY, Costa Prize-winning author of Day and Serious Sweet