Though a bit later than I usually post, today’s review is about ORCHID CHILD by Victoria Costello. Set mainly in Ireland, this story examines the effects of generational trauma and epigenetic expression. In a sense, confronting the truth and the past will set these characters free.
Author: Victoria Costello
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Liminal Books
Publish Date: June 13, 2023
Print Length: 312
*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.
Kate is a neuroscientist who covets logic and order, unless she’s sleeping with her married lab director, and then logic goes out the window. So does her orderly life in Manhattan when she’s fired over the affair and Kate’s mother presses her to accept responsibility for her fifteen-year-old nephew, Teague, an orchid child who hears voices and talks to trees but rarely people.
To salvage her career, Kate agrees to conduct a study in West Ireland where hostile townsfolk rebuff her study of their historically high rate of schizophrenia and a local chief Druid identifies Teague’s odd perceptions as the gift of second sight, thrusting a bewildered Kate on a trail of madness, magic, and armed rebellion that leads to her own grandparents, who were banished as traitors from the same town.
When a confrontation with the chief Druid endangers Teague’s life, Kate lands at the intersection of ancient Celtic mysticism and 21st century neurodiversity, where the act of witnessing old wounds can heal suffering in both past and present – even hers, if she can accept the limits of science and the power of ancestral ties.
I received a free, digital reading copy of this book from the author. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
ORCHID CHILD is, at its essence, a story about rediscovering one’s roots. Set in 2002, Kate now lives in Ireland after accepting a position as a neuroscience researcher at a university. While there she will help study the high rate of schizophrenia in the local population of Ballymore. She has also recently become the legal guardian of her teenage nephew Teague, who hears voices.
Though set in the early 2000s, the narrative also alternates with snippets of the lives of Kate’s ancestors from the 1920s through the 1970s. Through these points of view share with the reader the generational traumas experienced by her family. It starts with the effects of the British suppression of Irish independence in the early 20th century. This upends the lives of Kate’s grandparents, resulting in immigration to the U.S. and stress immediately endured by them and its aftereffects in future generations. The purpose of recounting these events is to show an example of epigenetics. This is the study of how one’s behavior and environment can cause changes in the expression of one’s genes. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, one of Kate’s recent research focuses is epigenetics.
In ORCHID CHILD, the voices heard by Teague are part of a generational gift known as second sight. Celtic mysticism is the mechanism this story uses to explain Teague’s schizophrenia. That is, reconnecting with nature and helping to heal family trauma will help calm the voices and allow him to “control” them, in a sense. I felt this ran too close to the line of discrediting the benefits of medication. Thankfully, though, there is dialogue that touts the importance of modern medicine. (With that said, I also do want to highlight the importance of the mind-body connection.)
Where I had a little difficulty with this book was the pacing. The writing style is easy to read, but the inner dialogue felt underdeveloped. This made scene transitions feel rather abrupt. It almost felt as if there was some uncertainty about how to insert the “small talk” that makes the reader feel as though they’re getting to know the characters. The scenes set in the 1920s and 1940s had a more natural feel to them. Also, because I tend to remember numbers better than words, I found the timing of some events and Kate’s respective age didn’t line up. So, either I misread something, or there is a math mistake. I doubt this would matter much to most readers, but I tend to remember numbers better than words, so this stuck out to me.
Kate also frustrated me, mainly because she doesn’t seem to know how to read the room. There was a reason she left her previous job. And, whether or not the reader agrees with the situation, it repeats itself. Though my personal preference is irrelevant, the happily ever after felt a bit too easy. I think the story would have been stronger had the whirlwind romance been nixed and instead more time spent on weaving the epigenetics subplot into the forefront. However, it was good to see Kate realize she needed to adjust her bedside manner to account for cultural differences, and to accept criticism on the job.
Overall, ORCHID CHILD was an interesting way to incorporate the relatively new (?) field of epigenetics. It also focuses on the importance of family and not letting old hurts fester. To discuss generational trauma promotes mental healing and changes the course of future generations’ experiences in the wide world.
Content warnings: parental death, gun violence, infidelity, sexual content, miscarriage, discrimination
Reading format: Kindle e-book