03 January 2015
The Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Billed by the publisher as Watership Down for The Hunger Games generation, I was not sure if I was going to like this book. I tried to read Watership Down when I was younger (perhaps too young?) and gave up on it after a few tries. Perhaps, after reading The Bees, I should try again.
Laline Paull has written a very well-researched drama surrounding bee Flora 717 and her hive as they go through a very tumultuous season. All from Flora 717's perspective, we watch as she emerges as a lowly sanitation bee, almost victim to the fertility police as they call her large dark and hulking figure a deformity. Saved by a member of the Sage caste in her hive, she moves through the castes of her culture participating various functions of the hive, all in the name of serving her queen and protecting the hive. On the way we are shown many bee hazards including cell phone towers, brownfield sites, gardens rife with infertile ornamentals, and climate change. We also discover that Flora has a secret that she must keep from her hive, or face death.
Paull creates a world that in which it is easy to become immersed, but some of the more anthropomorphic descriptions and poetic license taken with bee biology threaten to take the reader out of the story entirely. However, the story flows in such a way that it holds the illusion together throughout, however tenuously. Part drama in the royal court, part dystopian fiction, The Bees could easily be adapted to screen (Paull herself a screenwriter), and would be very fitting as a ballet. At the resolution of the book, Paull does not quite pull all the threads together, but it makes for some interesting thinking to be had after putting the book down. A weird, wonderful, and challenging read. 4.5/5
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