The Bees was outside my comfort zone – it was a book group choice.
The novel is set inside a beehive and all the characters are bees. Flora 717 is the heroine. She was born into the lowest class of bee – the sanitation workers who are responsible for cleaning the hive and disposing of the dead. However, Flora is no ordinary sanitation worker and she shows a fierce bravery in protecting the hive, foraging for food and defeating invasions. She feels a great loyalty to the hive and its occupants but she also breaks the most sacred law of the hive …
Laline Paull is an extremely talented writer. Her descriptive prose made me feel like I was inside the hive with thousands of bees. She made me root for the underdog, Flora 717. And I wanted to find out what happened in the end (it wasn’t exactly what I guessed!). I learned a lot about bees and the impact our modern lifestyle is having on them. My only grumble about the book is that I found it hard to pick out the other individual characters amongst all the bees. The bees have generic names and, to me, it wasn’t always clear, for example, which Sister Sage bee had done what.
Laline’s inspiration for the novel came via a beekeeper friend. On her website, Laline says, “I knew I had a book when I found out about the laying worker, that one in ten thousand sterile female bees, who suddenly, and for no known reason, start forming eggs in their bodies and become fertile – the sole role of the queen of the colony.” Laline also has some encouragement for other writers, “Don’t give up. I wrote The Bees age 48, in complete obscurity. It can happen.”
So, would I recommend The Bees? Yes, if you want to broaden your outlook and experience some good writing. No, if you like human characters with whom you can identify.
I agree with Tracy Chevalier who said, “A rich, strange book, utterly convincing in its portrayal of the mindset of a bee and a hive.”