I have mostly been enjoying the novels I've been reading alongside working on my own; standouts include Torpor, Bleeding Edge, 1982 Janine and Summer Fun. However this one was so bad and I could go on about it so long that it didn't fit in my masto account's #books thread. So here it is, for all lovers of hatchet jobs:
#books -- Pupa - JO Morgan: I am not happy to give this one an almost total pan. The guy manning the table at the small press fair was so nice and I want to be able to find something in common with other treatments of the bug people genre wrt my current novel draft. Unfortunately this is actually just a Very British Novel, therefore I am destined to despise it.
It's obvious on the thematic level, which demonstrates such a suspicion of pleasure and transformation that you have to wonder why the author even decided to write about bug people in the first place, and naturally this plays out in the most predictable and gendered way possible. It's billed as an atopia in the back copy, but really just applies some superficial insect qualities to small town Britain, that sort of imposed dreariness that becomes so mannered it ends up just as twee as the dreaded other end of this spectrum, trite tea and biscuits landed gentry antics.
The world-building is therefore both laid on thick and alternately unconvincing or incomprehensible. The transformation to adult and resulting sex life of the insect people is treated as completely mysterious and unknowable at times, fine. While sex education is notoriously insufficient in real life, the level of complete secrecy in the novel seems to possibly get in the way of this society lasting very long, especially given how common the "destruction of eggs" is (nice metaphor!/s).
But in other scenes, it's something that government services are oriented around, pamphlets are handed out about, and, in one especially cringeworthy instance of videogame style audio logs leaking into other mediums, the BBC seems to hire someone to go on the TV and read the in-universe equivalent of the Wikipedia page on Sexual Intercourse, in case you haven't gotten what's obviously going to happen at the end of the book by page 30. This is funny, perhaps unintentionally (there's also another part where an old woman "larval" delivers a cackling Bloodborne NPC level paragraph of clumsy exposition) but come on, it's got to be one or the other in many of these cases, right?
None of the insect elements are really doing anything in the narrative beyond some dull gross out moments; don't expect anything nearing the ambition or rigor of Cronenberg. It could really be any of the thousands of existing stories about how having sex makes your eyes empty and your hair color dull and wrecks your abject body, if you're a woman, anyways.
So that was disappointing, but on a stylistic level it also resorts to many of the obvious tricks of Very British Novels that are as easy to notice as what an unpracticed is-this-your-card street magician is doing once you're aware of them. The dialogue is clipped and repetitive in the name of stand-in realism that actually ends up sounding robotic and hard to follow, and the omniscient narrator occasionally indulges in mild editorializing or ambivalence to offer plausible deniability that the author is just bashing you over the head with their fusty moralism the entire time.
Boring, boring, boring! No mystery, no delight. But I do want to say the paper stock and cover design are very nice, so I don't feel totally ripped off. Eye catching on the shelf, and then you can have a stimulating conversation with any guests about how much it sucks.