The Bees by Laline Paull

I was having some food with friends the other night and we were talking about books we’d read.

“I’ve just finished a book, called The Hive. It’s about a bee”

“Oh yes, any good?”

“I have no idea”

That’s about the crux of the conversation. Yes, I know I could have been a bit more eloquent, and slightly (ever so slightly) more descriptive, but I was just so confused about how I felt about it.

Firstly, I feel like I know 400 million times more than I did about bees and the way a hive works than I ever did before. All the technical words & terms were there, being accurately used in context.  So in that way it was an information book, like the ones you find in school libraries.

Then there was something akin to a religious fervour throughout the story, especially with regard to the Queen Bee, or Holy Mother, as she is often referred to. So it was kind of a religious story of survival, coupled with tales of love and human stupidity. It also persisted with that all important underlying message (basically we should all grow more flowers, and not eat honey, that is, if you care, which I very much do), with a healthy dig at the male species, which is fair enough, because male bees literally do one thing and one thing only in their lives and then they die.

It was all slightly hysterical. In a kind of frantic, cram everything in, not sure what I’m meant to be sort of way.

In my mind, the author might have had a more coherent novel if she’d kept to one theme, but with all the passion. Because throughout the book, I really did care about Flora. Her story was heartfelt and real and more than once I had to remind myself that it was about a bee, rather than a human who I was reading about. This was compounded by references to ‘hands’, as in “she reached her hand out to him”, which alongside the proper technical words for all the rest of bees bits, seemed a bit misplaced.

I really enjoyed the interaction between the bees and the wasps, seeing as I spent many a bored summers day as a child supposing that the bees were the goodies  and the wasps the baddies, and the author seems to know her shit about these things, so I think I was right.

Of course the purpose of this blog is to recommend or not recommend the books that I have read. And you might think that I’ve been slagging this one off. But, despite it being all over the place in what it’s trying to be, it was a good read. I cared about the characters, I was interested and it taught me new things. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good book.

Now I’ve actually figured out what I think about it, I suppose I should have that conversation again with my friend. It would go something like this:

“I’ve just finished a book called The Hive. It was about a bee”

“Oh yes, any good?”

“Yes actually, it was. Once you get past the fervent and rather serious language, it’s rather special. I’d recommend it”

A slightly better response isn’t it?

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