What a weird book. Honestly, this is the first thing I have to write about “The Bees”. Doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just not at all what I was expecting – which is ridiculous now that I think about it – it’s all in the title after all.
I saw the title originally as a witty and metaphorical take on some sort of hierarchical alien society. Actually, the book is just about bees. While it starts off with a chapter touching on the old man who owns the beehive and how he seems to be dying or reaching the end of his ownership of the house. Either way, this draws the reader into the human world and then bam, chapter 1 – we find ourselves experiencing the birth of “Flora 717” into the beehive and her confusion at this new experience of life.
We follow Flora’s newfound life and her bewildering experiences as she is instantly thrust into the hive society. As she discovers her world, the reader discovers the world of the bees also. There is no foreknown world building of bees the reader can hang onto to understand the complicated feudal system Laline Paull throws us into. Each bee is born into a particular caste referred to as “Sister” something; the Floras are worker bees – specialising in sanitation. The Queen is surrounded by her attendants and the terrifying police sisters patrol the hive for worker bees who dare lay eggs repeating the mantra “only the Queen may breed”.
The Thistle sisters are the worst; manipulative and deadly – their motivations are unclear as Flora is unable to tell whether they wish to help or harm her. Enemies to the Hive are known collectively as The Myriad, this encompasses crows and wasps and anything in between. It is a childish, simplistic take on nature and does the impossible wherein one singular bee becomes the heroine of the novel. It’s like watching Stuart Little and realising you’re rooting for a mouse to become the star of the football team. God forbid any of this actually makes any sense.
Honestly, the novel is hugely gripping but that is mainly praise due to Laline Paull’s prose and the character of Flora who the reader can easily slip into. Her vision of the mute nature that surrounds us is fascinating. Looking back now, a few days after finishing the novel I find it hard to call to mind any particular plot detail that stood out to me. None of the characters are any I particularly rooted for. The ending didn’t leave me feeling particularly satisfied. Sometimes I found the overtly religious take on the hierarchy in the beehive somewhat nonsensical.
However, I can say it is truly one of the most unique and new books I have ever read. So that’s saying something isn’t it?