The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble
Published by Alma books
15th March 2015
Brothers Jonathan and Roger Maguire each have an obsession. For Jonathan, it is his beautiful and talented girlfriend Harriet. For Roger, it is the elaborate universe he has constructed in a shed in their parents' garden, populated by millions of tiny insects.
But Roger lives in an impenetrable world of his own and, after the mysterious death of their parents, his brother Jonathan is forced to give up his studies to take care of him. This obligation forces Jonathan to live apart from Harriet - further fuelling his already jealous nature.
Their lives are abruptly shattered by a sudden and violent death, and Jonathan is drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with the police. Does Roger know more than he is letting on?
Jonathan and Roger are brothers, physically very similar as children to look at, but mentally very different. Beginning in the 1960s, The Insect Farm tells of how the lives of these two brothers are both joined and yet separate, as they grow up and apart. Roger stays locked in his own world, while Jonathan conquers exams, A-levels and eventually university, with Roger remaining fixed on the insect farm he has created in the garden shed. Jonathan, now in a relationship with the beautiful bohemian Harriet, is planning a life for them together up in Newcastle, but he is more than a little possessive of his girlfriend, and particularly of their friend Brendan, who is not shy about his own feelings for Harriet.
When a fire engulfs the Maguire home, killing the boys' parents, Jonathan has to return home to care for Roger. The police cannot fathom what started the fire, and Roger, who was in the shed when it happened, is unable to tell them. Harriet remains in Newcastle, and Jonathan takes a job in the local library, their relationship separated by many miles. Brendan is still on the scene, but surely Harriet is trustworthy, even though she is so far away?
Then another tragedy befalls the Maguire boys and suddenly Jonathan starts to doubt himself and his brother. Now the police are back on the scene again, and questions are being asked that neither Roger or Jonathan are willing to answer truthfully.
This is the second book from the Curtis Brown reading group list, and whilst I might not have chosen it from a shelf of books to read, I did enjoy it. It's an easy-flowing novel that kept me interested from start to finish. I liked the fact that it was set in an age where mobile phones weren't invented, so that communication between Jonathan and Harriet is harder to maintain. I liked Harriet to begin with, then she makes a revelation that made me turn against her towards the end of the book. It's interesting how a book can have the power to do that, as if they are indeed, real people. The revelation at the end wasn't quite the 'shock ending' that the book claims to have, for me, but it was good!