Saturday, May 01, 2010

Earwig heaven

In the New York Times Book Review, Philip Hoare reviews Hugh Raffles' Insectopedia:
Raffles’s approach is almost perversely eclectic. His alphabetical entries range in subject matter from the personal disgust he feels when he discovers a cockroach sharing the shower in his Manhattan apartment to epic journeys into Asia and Africa and observing cricket-betting in Shanghai and locust-eating in Niger. His essays may take up 20 pages or a mere two paragraphs. But the most satisfying ones illuminate his subject via potted biographies of men and women who are passionate about insects.

In “Chernobyl,” for instance, Raffles offers a cameo of Cornelia Hesse-­Honegger, a contemporary artist dedicated to creating near-perfect watercolors of insects deformed by nuclear fallout. This is sci-fi stuff: flies with legs growing out of their eyes, the kind of mutations that in any other animal would elicit our horrified response, yet which, because they occur in such small creatures, seem almost excusable because almost invisible. In the act of depicting them so exactingly, Hesse-Honegger, whose own child, we are told in an upsetting aside, was born with a club foot, “discovers that the insect is deformed in ways she hadn’t noticed before.”
There is an extraordinary set of pictures of Chernobyl at the Independent this week, by the way, commemorating the 24th anniversary of the catastrophe.

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