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.