REVIEW – JOHN MORROW’S PICK OF THE WEEK
Wow, what a rollercoaster ride this book is! It’s full of excitement right through to the action-packed, thrilling end.
The story is centered on a home in the mountains. This is where Beth and her two children live, surrounded by a beautiful garden. Beth’s husband, Mark, has left Beth for a younger woman and after moments of sadness, she decides to get on with life and continue working at a nearby equestrian centre, and in her garden.
This story is in two parts – firstly, it describes the difficulties of family life after a marriage break-up and the confusion for the children living within a split family. In a way, it’s better for Beth, as she gets a break from the children when Mark, and his new love, Helen, take care of the kids on the weekend.
Beth’s garden is full of interesting insects and the descriptive passages of these garden dwellers is beautifully written. Beth’s solitude on the farm leaves her time to study the life and activities of the creatures that inhabit her garden.
Disturbingly, she discovers that she has an invasion of European wasps and these are not natives of Australia and they have systematically begun destroying her other insect friends. I found the description of the wasps’ activities incredibly real and also found myself becoming more engrossed in the story as I read about Beth vs the wasps.
This is a thriller of a different kind. It is not just a homely story about insects and Beth’s relationship with Mark and Helen is thrilling in itself. It’s a story full of drama that unfolds to a grizzly ending where both insect and human life clash.
How will this story end?
“This is a thrilling story that describes both human and insect life in detail as they become intertwined… an unforgettable, unputdownable trip into a grisly garden that, on the surface, is described to look like a quiet refuge, however this is certainly not the case”
A book is a private companion – John Morrow, Regional Newspaper Reviewer
World of Books and Music
REVIEW – Edition 5 – Australian Literary Review WED 03 SEP 2008, Page 022
Relationships with a sting in the tail By KATHY HUNT
The functions and dysfunctions of family life provide fertile ground for these emerging novelists
Wasp Season By Jennifer Scoullar Sid Harta Publishers, 298pp, $24.95
I Dream of Magda By Stefan Laszczuk Allen & Unwin, 288pp, $23.95
The Nearly Happy Family By Catherine McKinnon Viking, 468pp, $32.95
Misconceptions By Sophie Townsend Bantam, 319pp, $23.95
Walking to the Moon By Kate Cole-Adams Text Publishing, 256pp, $29.95
Launched at last month’s Melbourne Writers Festival, Wasp Season is Jennifer Scoullar’s first novel. Remarkable for its subject matter, it reminds me of Norrie, a man I used to know who painted sunsets — lurid, violent pictures executed, and that is the word, with more paint than precision. In a cupboard somewhere was his birth certificate showing his second name to be Ramon. Was a wayward Spanish gene responsible for the garish sunsets he felt compelled to produce? We will never know, but every year, carried away by his vision, he would enter these unnatural things in the Rotary art show. He never won but kept on painting and exhibiting.
Like Norrie, Townsend and Cole-Adams, Scoullar has fixed on a theme, immersed herself in it and built a story around it. I have criticised the other writers for lack of balance, skill and judgment but their determined attempts are no match for this book, which celebrates the life and work of the European wasp. Scoullar is a lawyer, a passionate amateur naturalist and the mother of seven children. She lives on a small rural property near Melbourne.
Wasp Season opens with a chapter devoted entirely to the wasp queen, possibly a first for Australian fiction. Later on she will be given a name — Zenandra, Persian for queen — but for the moment the author is content to set the scene before introducing the humans: Beth, who is separated but not divorced from Mark, their children Sarah and Rick, Mark’s new partner Helen and their baby boy Chance.
A stated purpose of the novel is to provide “the reader with a fascinating and compelling parallel story that holds up a distorted mirror to the human drama”. It can’t have been the writer’s intention, but that word, distorted, implies that the people are the normal ones here, and that the highly organised wasp society, with its timeless rules and rituals, is somehow inferior. This ridiculous idea is soon scuttled by Mark. A wealthy accountant, he has been influenced all his life by his mother Vanessa, a human wasp queen driven by ambition for her son. As a result he has become too aggressively competitive for Beth’s taste and their marriage has failed.
Scoullar’s grip on human characterisation is like a Chinese burn — Vanessa is pantomime wicked, Helen is Hollywood dumb and Mark is face-slappingly crass — but if there is any distortion here it is that these crude characters make a clearer impression than Ruth and Jess with all their tortured and tortuous soliloquies.
And, curiouser and curiouser, when it comes to wasps, the narrative has passages, pages and indeed chapters of lovely lyrical prose. Scoullar, it turns out, is a writer of documentary calibre. Here is Zenandra making her entrance: “She descended from a clear azure sky that spring morning in lazy spirals, to alight upon the fallen tree.” Sex with Zenandra is equally poetic and almost worth the risk.
Only human, Mark can’t help thinking along the same lines as he hunts Beth down to rape her in the bush. In a horrific scene reminiscent of Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds, he stumbles across a super-wasp nest. Based on a Daphne du Maurier story, The Birds tapped into a deep psychological reservoir of disgust and dread to no real purpose. As flawed as Norrie’s sunsets but the only one of these novels with a point, Wasp Season teaches us that these sophisticated aliens are programmed to destroy and we let them get on with it at our peril.
REVIEW – New Australian Novelist to Watch
Amazon November 11, 2007
Wasp Season is the author’s first novel in which she employs an innovative use of the natural world as a metaphor for the human drama as well as providing readers with a fascinating parallel story. The novel also acts to inform readers of the dangers that introduced species pose while educating the reader about the life cycle and social lives of various species of insects, and perhaps could instill a greater appreciation for them.
The contemporary human drama combines to address a number of pressing social issues including: motherhood and fatherhood (parenting), work and family, the nature of contemporary intimate relationships, the supremacy that paid work holds in our lives, materialism, social disintegration and alienation (e.g. gambling) and the meaningless of modern day lives devoid of any real connections.
The author is a highly gifted and imaginative writer. She is a new Australian novelist to watch.
REVIEW – Great New Australian Fiction,
Amazon November 12, 2007
This debut novel is an engrossing and thrilling study into human relationships and the natural world. Part of the story explores a family after separation, dealing with issues of new partners and children, custody, regret, loneliness and mental illness. The other storyline takes place in the garden of Beth, the novel’s protagonist. As Beth deals with the events in her life, the garden provides a place for her to escape, reflect and to direct her energies. The lives of the insects compliment and intersect with those of the humans, and also provide some shocking twists and turns.
Packed with drama and featuring elements of horror, this book keeps you enthralled from start to finish. A very exciting book by a new author!
Amazon November 17, 2007
This is a fast accessible read which gets the reader involved in unusual and pleasing ways. The drama of the insects is always fascinating and as their narrative gathers momentum it is gripping, becoming a kind of horror story. But the story of the insects never overshadows the human drama because the author has made that involving and takes it in unexpected directions. The conclusion, while horrifying and startling, is presented in such a way that the reader wholly believes it. It is a powerful and frightening conclusion to a gripping story.