Since I moved further away from the centre of the city (though I’m hardly in the sticks) I’ve been making the most of opportunities to catch the bus or DLR and fall back in love with reading. And boy did I fall hard with Laline Paull’s debut novel The Bees.
Rarely do I come across a story that I feel compelled to share with everyone I meet but when introducing myself for the first time in April I must have said, Hi. My name’s Laura and I’m reading this great book about bees! tens of times. I feel no shame in admitting that I mourned the end of this novel even though I greedily raced through it and missed my bus stop on more than one occasion just to finish a chapter.
Our story begins within the holy walls of a beehive where we meet lowly sanitation bee, Flora 717, shortly after she hatches. We follow her on the many societal trials and tribulations of hive life where the most important rule of all is upheld by every kin: only the Queen may breed. Except, it’s not just the Queen who’s laying eggs and the fertility police are determined to weed out the traitor and eliminate her for the sake of the hive’s stability.
One of my stand out highlights of the novel was the fact that the protagonist was female – in fact, the story revolves entirely around the strength of the female characters and they are not all mousy. Neither are they all likeable. Uncharacteristically, the ‘fluff pieces’ in the story, (those who are placed on a pedestal by default of their sex yet cast out once their purpose has been served) are the male drones of the hive. How refreshing to read a story where the female characters were not simply created to be the male protagonist’s love interest!
Like the rest of her kin-sisters, Flora worked in a dull haze, interspersed with pauses for Devotion. When the fragrance of the Queen’s Love rose through the vibrating comb, the sanitation workers stopped wherever they were and cried out in slurred reverence, and Flora felt a moment of blissful relief from the constant pain in her head. Then they all returned to work, and her consciousness shrank back down to whatever task was in hand.
Paull’s vivid descriptions and mischievous wordplay gripped me from start to finish and I so wanted to carry on reading far beyond the final page. Her writing oozes imagination; each perfectly crafted sentence dripping with descriptions so vivid you’re instantly transported into the heart of the hive, ready to repeat: Accept. Obey. Serve.
On a deeper level, Paull holds a mirror up to 21st century society. With a nod to George Orwell’s 1984 she broaches complex issues of caste, blind obedience and social injustice, effectively shrinking the world we live in to the size of a hive to allow us to view it through the eyes (and antennae) of those living and working on different tiers.
This is a wonderful book for anyone wishing to see the world through a different lens as well as learn more about the incredible lives of bees. Although it is a work of fiction Paull has commented that much of her research into the life of bees and the workings of the hive proved far more fascinating than anything she could imagine.
What are you reading? I’d love to hear your recommendations – please let me know in the comments below or tweet me @talesofadvblog using the hashtag #talesofbookclub. And if you are looking for a fantastic summer read I heartily recommend you read The Bees. I’d lend you my copy but you’ll have to get in line – I’ve promised to lend it to so many people already!
Until next time,