Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Bees: A Novel

Title:  The Bees: A Novel
Author:  Laline Paull
Publication Information:  Ecco. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0062331159 / 978-0062331151

Book Source:  I read the book because I was intrigued by the premise and the fact that this is a debut novel.

Favorite Quote:  "Then kindly recall that variation is not the same as deformity."

Surprise #1:  This book is actually, truly, really about bees. I know it's right there in the title, but I still did not expect it to be so completely about bees. The main characters are bees with some wasps in villainous supporting roles.

Surprise #2:  I loved the book! (and, yes, I have gotten a lot of weird looks when I tell my friends that.)

You could read this book in two completely different ways.

A reader could look at it as about bees and a vividly imagined rendition of bee life. The actions and reactions in the book could be deemed instinctual. As such, you could read it with academic interest in getting a better understanding of bee society. Apparently, the book is a reasonably accurate description of the life cycle of a hive and of the roles various "types" of bees play in that hive. I don't have the knowledge to assess that, but I found it a learning experience.


A reader could ascribe human characteristics to the bees and look at this book as a story of a dystopian society. Only one is the queen - the spiritual leader of the hive. Groups have specific characteristics and specific roles. One group is considered superior to the others. Independent thought and action are considered a threat to the society. An aberration from this rigid structure is considered dangerous and must be destroyed.

Either way, the story grabs your attention and doesn't let go. The movie in my head that went with this book is the one where I see bees but with human emotional and intellectual attributes.

The book begins as Flora 717 hatches. She is of the lowest category of bees - the ones whose responsibility is cleaning and serving. That is the job of all her kind. The Sage are the wise advisers to the queen. The drones are the princes of society; the entire hive caters to their well-being. The foragers are those who fly out and gather nectar and pollen to feed the hive. The Teasel care for the young.

Yet, Flora 717 is different. She has abilities unlike those of her type. That gets her away from the sanitation detail to the nursery to care for the babies, to fly out of the hive and forage, and even to serve the Queen. Even more so, it leads her to think and question the ways of the hive. It leads her wants and actions that could be considered treason.

Her life occurs in the midst of the life of the hive. The health and well being of the Queen drive the well being of the hive. The outside attacks from the wasps threaten their very home and lives. Weather threatens the food supply. The machinations of those within the hive provide an undercurrent of intrigue.

Throughout all of this, Flora 717 fights for her life and her independence. She seeks to serve the hive, but on her terms. She pursues her own dreams and desires even as they are completely and utterly against the hive rules.

I did guess the end of the book before getting to it, but read along to see exactly how the book would get there. The book has action and adventure, intrigue, and emotion. A wildly imaginative debut!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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