Wasp is a brilliant character-driven novel set in 18th century England, where The House of Masques provides escorts to those willing to pay for their services. It’s a well-crafted, well-written page-turner.
I enjoyed the way the present and the past unfold together – as we learn more about The House of Masques we gradually learn more about how the protagonist, Bethany (or ‘Wasp’, as she comes to be known), and the other characters came to be there.
Wasp exposes the hypocrisy of ‘civil’ society, which sadly is still relevant today. It’s a feminist novel without being preachy or falling into the trap of simply portraying one dimensional ‘strong’ women; all the women are flawed – they’re human. Bethany isn’t simply a victim swept along by circumstance; she makes the best of her situation in the House of Masques but never sinks into apathy. Moreover, (without spoiling the plot) it is clear that she shoulders some responsibility for what happened to her.
As well as portraying the difficulties of being a woman in patriarchal society, Wasp touches on the brutality of slavery and also shows the way men and the upper classes are constrained and damaged by social norms.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by aspects of the denouement but that didn’t spoil it for me – I loved this book and very much look forward to more from Garbutt.