A Waltz of Shadows: A Review of The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette
Words By Eli Bergersen
“…wonderfully creepy and peculiar, a sort of gothic rendition of Lord of the Flies,” are the words Patrick Dewitt uses to describe Colin Winnette’s book, The Job of the Wasp. The influence of Lord of the Flies is certainly apparent as the young narrator tries to make his way through the feral games and power hungry behaviors that surround him at a school for orphaned boys. The disappearance of every semblance of adult authority and the island-esque seclusion of the school gives these boys the opportunity to create their own rules and their own attempt at order. However, unlike Lord of the Flies, these boys aren’t just thrown into their new, self-made society. Instead, they are eased terrifyingly into it, one murder at a time.
The murder mystery adds to the Gothic setting that Winnette has created, allowing a sense of hazy ambiguity to creep into the plot. Mysterious voices are heard outside the windows of this school that has no name. We follow a narrator whom we know little about and who knows nothing about the real reason for the murders. Boys who nobody knows appear only in the dark; ghost stories haunt the halls; questions remain unanswered. You’ll find yourself questioning the reality of this story. Do ghosts really exist here, or is all of this just a convoluted plan cooked up by some sadistic genius?
The narrator’s voice is very unique for the given circumstances: a young boy of questionable age ranging anywhere from six to possibly fifteen, who lives in an orphanage with violently aggressive boys where a series of murders and disappearances is occurring. One would expect this character to be overly emotional, to believe in any story (fact or fiction) that he’s told, and to be just as aggressive as the other boys. However, Winnette creates a voice that is highly mature, and is desperate to hold onto what is reasonable and rational. Not only does this voice constantly make me question the narrator’s age, but what he must have gone through to remain so calm in such a crisis situation. This builds a palpable sense of suspicious intrigue in the narrator, yet I can’t help but be compelled to trust him. I believe what he says to be true because he tries very hard to be unbiased. He states that “these are the facts as I know them, though others may know something else”.
This book sucks you in with its questions and its hauntings, but you stay because of the narrator’s peculiar believability. It’s a fantastic waltz of shadows and understanding. Though most of the time there is great confusion, you never feel so lost that you become frustrated. This is a classic medium of the Gothic genre; sowing confusion and darkness, yet never pushing the reader to the point of anger. Instead, what the reader doesn’t know blossoms into something beyond curiosity: a genuine desire to know a truth that may never come.
Colin Winnette has shown great skill in handling this very odd and dark genre. And what a better place to house such uncertainty than the trademark secluded island, so to speak, of Lord of the Flies? Far from prying eyes of society, where rules become mere guidelines, and boys run amuck; how will these wild children fare in such an environment? I suggest you read The Job of the Wasp and find out for yourself.