Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: The Bees

Title: The Bees
Author: Laline Paull
Release Date: 2015
Genre: fiction, biology...I'm really not sure what to call this one
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: adult fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (Shortlisted)


Flora 717 is born into her hive just as every other Flora is born--she climbs out of a cell, shakes herself dry, and is ready to work. Just like all the other bees.
Except Flora is, well a Flora. That means she's at the bottom of the bee-list. She's a cleaner of the hive. But a Sage decides to try an experiment and moves Flora up to the nursery where the young bee learns to tend to the babies.
That was a big mistake.
Flora gets smart. She learns how to blend in with any of her sisters, the Sage (priestesses), the foragers, and butting heads with the Teasel. Plus, she befriends a Drone, the most disgusting and self-absorbed member of the hive.
Yes, Flora is dangerously resourceful--and she's a mutant. But one day her ability to move from class to class becomes a real threat. One day, she falls in love with motherhood.
And one day, she realizes something horrible: the Queen is sick.

Word of Warning
  • This book is incredibly brutal. Bees and wasps are torn apart and murdered in various ways. Spiders prey upon the bees and suck their lives from them. It's the brutal reality of the animal world like we've never seen it before. The violence is not glorified, and is treated appropriately, but can be disturbing.
  • The Drones. They're disgusting and self-centered and just, yuck. Their sole desire is to mate with a Queen (and once they do so, they die). We get a rather stark description of this processes. It's detailed and graphic but strangely non-sexual. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the way the material is treated is more factual and scientific than anything else. It's weird and disturbing to remove romance and anything beautiful from that kind if intimacy. I think that's what bothered me most about this discussion. I realize these are animals, so of course you have to remove that, but I hadn't realized how messed up it sounds.
  • The Sisters' (bees) religion kept reminding me over and over of a Pagan/misunderstanding of Catholicism mashup. I never could pin down if the author was trying to mock Catholicism or not. The Sisters have ranks, priestesses, a library with books in it that they revere, and a Queen Mother that they worship above all else. They gather for Devotion once a day and their prayers sometimes sound similar to the Hail Mary prayer. It was really disconcerting.
My Thoughts

Wow. Having grown up enchanted by creepy crawlies and other creatures, I knew pretty much all the factual information in this book. But there is a huge difference between knowing the facts and seeing them in action. I'd never really thought of these facts in the form of a story--at least, not realistically.

Life in the hive is confusing and full of blind followers. It's brutal. It's disgusting.

But it's the life of a bee.

And I honestly enjoyed this book. I found it hard to put down. The writing style was haunting and the story was stunning.

Wow. That's just about all I have to say about this one.

And yes, that may be a purposeful paraphrase of Mr. Slinger in Kevin Henkes' Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse. Because I do enjoy a good picture book, and I have my childhood favorites that I will never forget. Like The Poky Little Puppy.


grandma jane said...

So glad you reviewed this one. I found it fascinating for many reasons.

For me, it offered an interesting lesson (science/biology)on the life of bees, though until your review I had not considered how really brutal is the life of bees. It is.

Also, this book made me consider another agenda. It made me look at what happens when humans try to alter nature for our perceived needs. A warning, a bit like Rachel Carson's, A Silent Spring. But interesting in that it all came from the bee's perspective.

As far as religious symbolism, I can't speak to that as I didn't get quite that from this book. It seemed to me a stark view of a cast society, and we know they do exist in our world.

For sure it's not the typical story but I found it compelling and somewhat entertaining. I too found it hard to put down.

Thanks again for taking this one on.

Lily's Plastic Purse...;-)I do remember that one! ;-)

Maria Gianna said...

and thank YOU for bringing this book to my attention!
and while I did pick up on the religious symbolism (it honestly seemed to shout at me from the pages), I didn't really pick up on the theme of humans altering nature. I noticed the beehive man at the beginning and end of the book, but it didn't seem to mean much. ah, the beauty of literature. there's always more to see.

no, it wasn't typical. but it was very well done.

ah yes, who could forget Lily? :)

Suzie said...

I loved the book, even bought a copy for Sean's Grandma and she loved it too.
I thought of Silent Spring a lot as I read Bees. It was as if they took one of the little tales from Rachel Carson and spread it in to a book.

Maria Gianna said...

Hi Suzie!
Me too. It is a fantastic book. I'm glad to see that it's slowly getting out and being read.
Wow! I think I'm going blind in my literary analysis. I seem to be the only one who isn't connecting it to Silent Spring (though, I have to confess, I never made it through that one). Interesting connections though. Personally, I just liked the story quality and the biology in the book.
Glad you enjoyed the book!