Orchid & the Wasp

Pages: 352
Subject: Fiction
Imprint: Oneworld

Orchid & the Wasp

Caoilinn Hughes

A hilarious and anarchic portrait of a downwardly mobile family in post-crash Dublin
9781786073655 (7 Jun 2018)
RRP £12.99
9781786074201 (7 Jun 2018)
RRP £12.99

The Book

'A gem of a novel.' ELLE

'Ambitious, full-bodied and fresh.' Irish Times


'A remarkable, propulsive debut novel.' Sunday Times Literary Supplement


'Ambitious, richly inventive and highly entertaining.' John Banville, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea

An unforgettable young woman navigates Dublin, London and New York, striving to build a life raft for her loved ones in the midst of 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. Raised in Dublin by single-minded, careerist parents, Gael observes from a young age how a person's ambitions and ideals can be compromised. 

When Gael's financier father walks out during the economic crash of 2008, her family fractures. Her mother, a once-formidable orchestral conductor, becomes a shadow of her former self, and a tragic incident prevents her unwell brother Guthrie from finishing school. Determined not to let her loved ones fall victim to circumstance, Gael leaves Dublin for the leather-lined, coke-dusted social clubs of London, then Manhattan's gallery scene during the throes of the Occupy movement, always working an angle, but slowly becoming a stranger to those who know her.

Written in electric, heart-stopping prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a novel about gigantic ambitions and social upheaval, chewing through sexuality, class, and politics, and crackling with joyful, anarchic fury. It challenges bootstraps morality, questioning what we owe one another and what we earn, what makes for a good life, and how events in our lives can turn us into people we never intended to be. A first novel of astonishing talent, Orchid & the Wasp announces Caoilinn Hughes as one of the most exciting literary writers working today.

Additional Information

Subject Fiction
Pages 352
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Caoilinn Hughes is an Irish writer whose poetry collection Gathering Evidence won the Irish Times Shine/Strong Award and the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, and was shortlisted for both the Seamus Heaney Prize and the Pigott Poetry Prize. She is a fellow of the James Merrill Foundation, and the Bogliasco Foundation, and was awarded a Tin House Writers Workshop Scholarship for Summer 2017, a Literature Bursary Award from the Arts Council of Ireland, and The Ireland Funds Monaco Award. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Granta, POETRY, Best British Poetry, BBC Radio 3, The Rumpus and elsewhere. She divides her time between her native Ireland and the Netherlands.


‘Highly ambitious… Kick-ass, whip-smart and with "a tongue like a catapult”, Gael belongs to a venerable tradition of feisty heroines…readers are going to love her.'

- Sunday Times

‘Fiercely bright and moves like a bullet train.'

- Sebastian Barry, Costa Book of the Year-winning author of Days Without End

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

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

‘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.'

- Times Literary Supplement

‘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

‘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 Caldwell, The New Yorker

‘Hugely ambitious and richly inventive.'

- Irish Examiner

‘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.'

- Yoona Lee, LA Review of Books

‘A gem of a debut about the way we live now.'

- Elle

‘Ambitious, full-bodied and fresh. Hughes casts her unique gaze, her artistic, analytical and emotional intelligence, on us, not just in Ireland, but our capitalist world and the personal, political and social ramifications implicit in our acquiescence to, or indeed, championing of, its values. Bring Gael back, please.'

- Irish Times

‘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. When I finished this book I wanted to return to the start. Immediately. Just to savour it all again.'

- Sunday Independent

‘This arch début novel's...satiric impulse — toward art-world hypocrisy, late capitalism, heterosexual love — is unsparing and ambitious.'

- The New Yorker

‘Extraordinary… It's a mesmeric, immersive, often hilarious reading experience, driven by the force of the imagery-rich writing and the cast of distinctive characters… Asking complicated questions about meritocracy, Hughes explores the relationship between art and capitalism, art and ownership, art and authenticity, art and the gatekeepers of art.'

- Irish Independent

‘From first glances looks like it might be the smart, funny, scathing and profound take on the whole Celtic Tiger madness we've been waiting for.'

- Fintan O'Toole

‘A remarkable debut novel... intellectual fiction that provides a bracing and occasionally withering account of upper echelon Irish life.'

- Sunday Business Post

‘Beautiful and breathtaking language [is] peppered throughout this wonderful novel... It's funny as hell in places and the characters will stick with you long after you've finished the final page. It's nothing short of brilliant.'

- Rick O'Shea, RTE broadcaster

‘Caoilinn 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. The full cast of characters is memorable and original, but Gael in particular challenges and charms. 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

‘Fresh, playful and exuberant: Hughes has arrived with a heady style that is full of surprise and invention.'

- Paul Lynch, Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year-winning author of Grace

Orchid & the Wasp is a hugely entertaining novel full of wit, intellect and sharp observations. Reading about a young female character who is not beset by the stereotypical problems that beset a person her age is refreshing... Caoilinn Hughes is definitely one to watch.'

- RTE Culture Magazine

‘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 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 savour each beautifully unfolding sentence. Unsentimental, yet sneakily moving and given to surprising bouts of joy.'

- Matthew Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

‘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' 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, author of Legend of a Suicide

‘An ambitious and lyrical debut with an unforgettable heroine.'

- Largehearted Boy

‘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

‘[A] visceral and electrifying debut… In Gael, Hughes has created a mesmerizing and compelling force.'

- Booklist

‘A dark but highly amusing coming-of-age story... Prize-winning Irish poet, Caoilinn Hughes has written a stunningly ambitious debut novel, revealing a considerable talent. If this is a beginning, she is destined for literary greatness.'

- Bookjotter

‘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 tremendously engaging novel, brimming with sparky humour and astute observations. Caoilinn Hughes' prose fizzes with wit and intelligence. A joy to read.'

- Danielle McLaughlin, Saboteur Award-wining author of Dinosaurs on Other Planets

‘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… Orchid & the Wasp is the antithesis of the Irish coming-of-age story. Far removed from the tale of a young girl learning Catholic guilt before shrugging it off, Hughes upended it right from the first page… The novel also has a Franzenesque flair for showing the interconnectedness of western society.'

- Hot Press

‘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' 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 debut from a deeply talented writer.'

- Nuala O’Connor, author of Miss Emily

‘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

‘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

‘Hughes is an exciting writer who has rightfully attracted a lot of buzz for her debut, and this is sure to be one of my novels of the year.'

- Bookish Beck, blogger review

‘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