The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble

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The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: A beautifully-plotted tale of two brothers, one obsessed with a woman and the other with his insect farm, and what happens after obsession turns into violence.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 376 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Alma Books
ISBN: 978-1-84688-354-5

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I was predisposed to enjoy this book before I'd even opened the cover. It set me in mind of The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams - another tale of a challenged person who finds refuge in an obsession with insects. But where The Behaviour of Moths focuses on two warring sisters, The Insect Farm has two brothers as the central characters: Roger, who has special needs, and his devoted younger brother Jonathan. Both boys develop an obsession, Roger with his insect farm and Jonathan with a woman, Harriet. When obsession eventually leads to the violence of destruction, other behaviours come into play: feelings of guilt quickly switch to the fear of capture and the sly acts of a man keen to lay the blame elsewhere.

As a study of relationships between characters who all have something to hide, this book is very successful. The unequal relationship between the humble Jonathan and the extraordinary Harriet is somehow all too believable. But it is in his portrayal of the relationship between the two brothers that Stuart Prebble surpasses himself. The love that Jonathan has for his brother and the loyalty between the two are evident on every page, and there are indications aplenty that Jonathan may not know or understand Roger nearly as well as he thinks, giving Roger's character an interesting depth and leaving the reader with the unease of uncertainty. Roger, a twenty-eight-year-old with the shaving style of an alcoholic, is charming, harmless. Or is he?

The plot is excellent and holds together really well, with an extremely satisfying final chapter that brings the book back to where it started very nicely indeed. Despite the careful plotting, though, the writing itself isn't particularly exciting. A few times the narrator repeated himself and this smacked of careless writing rather than careful design, interrupting what was in the main a flowing narrative. There were disappointingly few insights into the world of mini-beasts (for which The Behaviour of Moths had whetted my appetite) and little in the way of descriptive prose. And although the story is suspenseful and has its fair share of mystery, at no point did I experience that delicious feeling of dread that you get with, say, a really good NIcci French.

That said, the plot more than makes up for my quibbles about writing style. The more I think about the story, and the way it unravels, the more I realise how clever Stuart Prebble has been. It's a great page turner, perfect reading for a long journey, with enough plot twists to retain your interest. But probably not a book you'd read twice.

For more insectivorous introspection, try The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams. If twists and turns in the plot are more your thing then read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

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Buy The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble at


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