The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble

I’ve had a few days to reflect on The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble and yet in spite of the extra time for reflection my thoughts are still a bit of a jumble.

The Insect Farm brings to us the Maguire brothers, Jonathan and Roger.  Even though there is something of an age difference the two grow up with a strong bond and are virtually inseparable – up to a point.  The point where Jonathan becomes interested in girls and having a social life and Roger’s ambitions take a completely different turn.  Roger is a very simple character, I can’t remember whether this is ever elaborated upon in the book but basically put he will never be mentally capable of looking after himself as he remains in an almost perpetual childlike state.  As the two mature and Jonathan takes on everyday pursuits that lead him away from the home Roger starts to collect insects and what starts out as a random collection of ants and the like turns into a major project with more exotic creatures kept behind glass.  At this point in the story you can see the traits of obsessiveness in both boys.  Jonathan becomes completely besotted with his girlfriend and future wife, Harriet, and Roger spends every day at the shed nurturing his insects.  It all has this feeling of looming disaster – with creepy crawlies!!

Then catastrophe strikes and the boys’ parents die in an unfortunate accident.  Jonathan chooses to put his plans for university on hold and return to look after his brother, effectively putting a few hundred miles between himself and Harriet and thereby setting in motion a series of events that become almost inevitable.

What I really liked about this story was the narration.  The tale is told by Jonathan whose voice flows and is really quite compelling and there is an ever mounting sense of ‘things about to go horribly wrong’ that frankly makes you race through the book. Jonathan is the main character and I enjoyed reading his story.  Roger and Harriet we only get to see through Jonathan’s eyes which might not be totally reliable after all as we are only getting his side of the story.  As the book progresses we start to have a few hints of mistrust, some that may be simple misunderstandings and others created by the suspicions of others, for example, the police.  There are also a few snippets of things that appear to be laying a trail of cookie crumbs – a trail that falsely led me straight to a dead end and an unsuspected dead body.  Okay, I knew there was going to be a murder from the book description but it still came a little bit out of the blue for me!

I’m not sure whether this is a criticism or not really but i expected this book to be a lot more psychologically chilling and to be honest it just wasn’t.  Now, that’s not to say I didn’t like the story or the style of writing, because I did, it just really wasn’t what I was expecting so whilst I didn’t have goosebumps I was still compelled to turn the pages fairly quickly.  In one respect I feel like this is somehow a missed opportunity because there is clearly a lot of scope here to be a good deal more creepy but then on the other hand I did enjoy it – conflicted!  And that’s my conundrum, I think because I was expecting something more dark and foreboding I couldn’t help feeling a tad disappointed – whilst at the same time being faced with the contradictory feelings of having liked the read overall.  I guess it goes to show how much your own expectations can muddy the water sometimes.

The other thing that did occur to me was that the ending was too rushed.  We have this really well told story that sucks us in, paints a picture and carefully sets out its stall but then suddenly it’s like the story bolts out of the gates with it’s pants on fire and events flick fowards at a furious rate similar to the digits flying round the clock on Well’s Time Machine.  Again, I think this was simply too rushed and it all seemed to be to fit in with one thing, concerning Roger’s ability to remember things, which on reflection just doesn’t gel for me.  I can’t elaborate further because it would be a spoiler.

I suppose the other puzzle that has me pondering is whether or not Roger was quite as ‘simple minded’ as everyone really thought or was he more calculating.  I’m not sure I really know the answer to that or not – part of me finds it a bit much to have had this character who throughout the book has needed constant care, even though he can clearly look after a whole range of different insects, who now at the conclusion suddenly seems to be a good deal more astute than previously suspected.  There’s another quibble – if Roger is more intelligent than he makes out why would he be content to live in this way for the largest part of his life?  Anyway, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.  I’ll have to think on it some more, is the end a bit of a blunder or is it quite clever and is the author leaving certain decisions up to the reader?  I’m not sure I really have the answer and because I’m struggling to find my own resolution it leaves me feeling somewhat unsettled.  I don’t think I’m the sort of person who needs spoon feeding and I enjoy the opportunity to figure things out and find my own lightbulb moment but at the moment I feel like I’m in the dark.

In spite of my criticisms I did enjoy this but I think because of my own expectations I didn’t love it as much as I expected and so if you’re intending to read this just be aware that this isn’t a dark, chilling, psychological thriller with insect horror thrown in – more subtle mystery murder..

I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


11 Responses to “The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble”

  1. Tammy

    I’m so glad you reviewed this, it’s the first review I’ve read. When I first saw this book I was like “no way” because INSECTS. I don’t know if I could read about someone who collects and cares for them. Also, the cover really does suggest a mystery/thriller type story, so I can see why that part might have disappointed you. Hmmm, I’m intrigued!

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s actually really quite a good story but I feel conflicted, (1) because I guess it isn’t what I expected – and I don’t think that’s all my own doing because the description makes it sound a bit darker than it is and (2) I don’t really now feel like I understand at least one of the characters at all. It would be easy to just dismiss it and think that it was a good read – which it mainly was, but I don’t like the indecision in my own mind or the going backwards and forwards from one theory to the next.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I have been thinking about reading/reviewing this one! I had gotten the impression the creepyness factor for this came from one of the characters being a bit disturbed. And the other not realizing. Not sure if thats accurate or not.

    • lynnsbooks

      One of the characters is a bit simple minded really, more childlike than anything else. I’m not sure whether I’ve not read enough into his personality. I didn’t find this creepy or dark at all. I did enjoy reading it but it wasn’t what I expected but I think that’s my own fault really for reading the synopsis on the blurb in a way that I wanted to believe and for not considering that it could be something slightly different.
      Lynn 😀

  3. jenclair

    I was on the fence about this one, too, so I’m glad to see a review. Even after reading your review, I’m still unsure. I wonder if the title and cover have been a poor choice for this novel–setting up misleading assumptions and expectations.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think I led myself up the garden path with this one if I’m being honest. When I look at the blurb it is correct but I think I just chose to hope that it would be darker and more sinister than it was. The cover, I think, may not have been the perfect choice though. The thing is, it’s a good read, I just didn’t love it and part of that is my own disappointed expectations.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m surprised because from the cover, the title and description I definitely thought this would be much darker and chilling as well. This book was on my radar, not sure I’ll be more or less likely to read it now, I guess it will depend on my mood! Thanks for the review 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      It is a good story to be honest and I’m not totally sure if I shouldn’t reread the end to see if I could be a litle bit more clear about the characters. But, apart from the prologue, no, this is not dark or chilling – and I was expecting it to be full of insecty horribleness.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Stuart Prebble

    Thank you to Lynn for perhaps the most interesting and stimulating review of my book that I have read so far. I found it fascinating to learn about the questions which remained in your mind, and only sorry that some aspects of it disappointed. I was aware when I was writing it that the novel doesn’t fall neatly into a category, and so there could be a danger that readers with clear expectations might be disappointed. However I found myself more and more absorbed in the relationships between the two brothers, and in the character of Roger in particular, so that I chose to try to follow the story rather than the formula. I know that will have worked better for some readers than it did for others. I was really glad to read that you were left wondering if Roger is a far more clever person than he sometimes appears; my hope was that he could be appreciated as a simple chap if that’s what readers chose, but that there are several more layers to him for those inclined to find them. “Is Roger really God? – discuss.” But thank you again for the time and deep thought you have devoted to The Insect Farm, and obviously I hope that anyone else left wondering whether or not to read it, will decide to do so. SP

    • lynnsbooks

      Hi Stuart thank you for taking the time to read my review and leave me a comment. Even at this point I have mixed feelings about the book but at the end of the day a book that keeps you thinking about it afterwards is, for me anyway, a success.
      I think part of my issue with this book was my own expectations, which I realise I’m totally responsible for. When I wrote my review I went back and looked at the book description and to be honest I think it’s actually quite correct – so clearly, as I said in some of the comments – I led myself down the garden path with this one. I think the cover perhaps makes it look a bit more sinister and that coupled with the ‘insects’ just simply made me think this was going to be really creepy. Hopefully anybody who does read this who has gone down the same path as I did, will be able to adjust their own expectations. I always find that helpful when I read other reviews. I don’t really have a problem with a book falling into a particular category and enjoy it when an author defies pigeon holing so well done with that. I can see why you would enjoy writing about the brothers and how that would be really absorbing. I really liked Jonathan’s narrative and found it very compelling, I just struggled with Roger a little bit and it’s difficult to really elaborate upon that in a review (or even comments) without giving away spoilers for others. Even now I’m kind of going backwards and forwards with him. Was he simple, was he sinister? I think your idea for a discussion question about Roger would be excellent for a reading group.
      I also hope that others will decide to read, it’s never my objective with any review to deter others and in fact I have a clear personal policy that I don’t finish books that I’m not enjoying and don’t write reviews for books that I don’t finish as I think it’s unfair.
      I wish you all the best with The Insect Farm.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Hot July brings cooling showers… |

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