Being lucky enough to be a member of the Curtis Brown online book group, this month I was sent an advance copy of Stuart Prebble’s new novel, The Insect Farm.
I love crime novels, and the beautiful cover art immediately piqued my interest. On the surface this is a domestic thriller set in the early 1970s. Jonathan Maguire, brought up by doting parents, is devoted to his older brother, Roger, a boy with learning difficulties and with the mental age of an eight year old. As Jonathan prepares for university life with his girlfriend Harriet, Roger becomes engrossed in his insect farm, housed in a shed at the bottom of the garden… a place where he feels secure. He spends his time watching over colonies of ants, beetles and spiders; something which soon becomes an obsession. However, when their parents die in mysterious circumstances, Jonathan’s world is shattered as he realises he must now be the sole carer for his brother.
It’s difficult to write a review without giving spoilers, and I would not want to spoil this novel for you. The book twists and turns, bringing us a world of family obligation and jealousy. While Harriet continues her education far away from Jonathan, his world is plunged into a daily struggle to look after his brother, as he promised his father he always would.
Prebble writes with ease; as we move through 1970s London we begin to know the brothers and their lives. The story moves at a fast pace and as a sudden death rocks their world a sense of anxiety descends.
Reading the novel I was never really sure if I felt sympathy for Jonathan, or if his jealousy had pushed him too far for me to like him. Or even if I liked him at all. I’m sure everyone has known a Jonathan in some form or another. However Roger… well Roger shows the depths of character that are often overlooked when disabilities come to the forefront. As he finds solace in his insect farm we see how someone can become a specialist while being largely cut-off from the rest of the world. While others treat him as an eight year-old trapped in a man’s body, at the bottom of the garden he builds up his own world populated by the insects he loves and will protect at any cost.
I won’t tell you more about the story, but let me just say it’s a good one. As I read, the images were vivid and many scenes came to me as if I were watching a dramatisation of the action. The 1970s came alive for me again. I could honestly see this being made into a film.
If you like clever plots, crime novels and whodunit thrillers, I’m sure you will enjoy The Insect Farm. It’s published in March by Alma books… watch out for it in the best-seller lists.