Daniel's Beetles

Tony Bianchi
Publication Date: 
Monday, May 16, 2011
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Daniel's Beetles is the author's translation of his prizewinning novel, Pryfeta

Daniel is six. One afternoon, while playing with insects in the garden, he sees his father fall to his death. Is he upset? It’s difficult to say, because Daniel would prefer to attend to his beetles. Forty years later, he remembers nothing of the event. But two failed relationships and his elderly mother’s confusion  bring Daniel face-to-face with his demons. Then he meets Cerys and Dr Bruno and discovers a bold new way of regaining control over the past.

Daniel’s Beetles is an absorbing, unnerving novel about memory and forgetting, stories and lies. It describes our attempts to recreate ourselves in ways we can never fully control. And in Dr Bruno, it offers a disturbing glimpse of how our fears and desires can be manipulated by much larger forces.

Tony Bianchi is from North Shields, Northumberland and lives in Cardiff. The Welsh-language version of Daniel’s Beetles won the Daniel Owen Prize in 2007 and was short-listed for Wales Book of the Year. He has published two other novels in Welsh – Esgyrn Bach (2006) and Chwilio am Sebastian Pierce (2009) – and a volume of short stories, Cyffesion Geordie Oddi Cartref (2010). His English-language novel, Bumping (2010), was long-listed for the Portico Prize in 2010. He has also won awards for his poetry in Welsh.

‘One of the most exciting writers working in Wales today.’ (Lloyd Jones, Taliesin)

‘This is an intricate and multi-layered novel, rich in ideas and eloquent in expression, which will be pored over for years to come.’ (Owain Wilkins, Planet)

'...a rich, thought-provoking novel...' (New Welsh Review)

‘The writing is muscular and at times utterly overwhelming… I was exhilarated.’
 (Robat Arwyn, adjudicator, National Eisteddfod of Wales)

The questions this book asks are serious, but Bianchi writes with great humour. This strange and marvellous novel is a joy - to be read slowly and savoured. -- Planet

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Review from Planet

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If a person's happiness is dictated by his or her perception of how satisfactory a life has been, and if memory provides the foundation for much of this perception, then might it be possible to manipulate a loved one's memory to produce a state of great contentment?

Tony Bianchi's playfully complex fourth novel poses a wealth of questions and ideas such as this through the deceptively ordinary life of Daniel, a divorced entomologist who works in the beetle department of a museum. He lives alone in Cardiff, has two teenage daughters, an aged mother, a recalcitrant girlfriend and a meagre social life.

Summed up, his world sounds dull, but described as it is with sort of HD verisimilitude in which we read the words he reads painted on a passing truck while he sips his morning coffee and examine with him the exact nuances contained in an email from a new female acquaintance, his life seems rich with possibility.

There is a mystery about Daniel's father who died falling from a ladder when Daniel was six; as a result, Daniel is emotionally slightly off kilter. Following in the footsteps of his childhood hero, Alfred Russel Wallace, who once spent a year at Daniel's 'Wncwl Wil's' cottage gathering data on insects, Daniel becomes a naturalist and uses, to comic effect, his understanding of the insect world to interpret his experiences of human interactions.

The questions this book asks are serious, but Bianchi writes with great humour. This strange and marvellous novel is a joy - to be read slowly and savoured.

Emma Rea, Planet

22/08/2011 - 12:26
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Review from New Welsh Review

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Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the novel is the skilful and subtle way in which Daniel's narration exposes the connections between his twin preoccupations of entomology and translation (his ambition is to translate the major works of the nineteenth-century naturalist, Alfred Wallace, into Welsh) and his suppressed childhood memory of his father's death. Daniel's entomological pursuits, which begin in childhood, seem to provide a displacement activity, a means of imposing control and order on an unstable world through the labelling and cataloging of insect species; the way in which Daniel later treats his mother, with its chilling echo of the insects that he 'pinned' as a child, confirms this.

This is a rich, thought-provoking novel that questions what we mean by happiness and the lengths we are willing to go to maintain our sympathies for Daniel despite the dubious morality of his action.


Harri Roberts, New Welsh Review 2011

09/08/2011 - 16:06