Well, there's been lots of buzz surrounding Laline Paull's debut novel, The Bees. (sorry, couldn't resist!) And that buzz is well-deserved!
Flora 717 is born a sanitation worker in her hive - the lowest of the low. But Flora 717 is an anomaly - she can speak. One of the Sage Priestesses take notice of her and Flora is moved to the nursery to feed the young. Then against all odds, she becomes a forager, flying outside of the hive to find pollen and nectar to feed her hive. She is brave and kind and tries to serve her queen and live by the hive's dictum -'Accept, Obey and Serve'. But Flora 717 has another ability, one that goes against everything she has been taught from the moment she was born. And it is this instinct that now changes not just Flora's life, but that of the Queen and her hive.
Now, you might be saying to yourself - really? Bees? Trust me - you'll quickly become immersed in the life of the hive and truly invested in the character of Flora 717. And as you read or listen, you get caught up in her hopes and aspirations, in the struggles of her and her kin and in the day to day life of the community and the hive's struggle to survive. For there are predators. Humans make a brief appearance in the first and last chapters, reminding us of the fragility of nature and the harm our chemicals wreak.
The details of the hive and of the lives of bees were both informative and fascinating. Did you know that "It takes twelve bees their entire lives to gather enough nectar to make one teaspoon of honey?"
The architectural structure of the hive was quite detailed and vividly drawn.
From the author: "I realized that the most astonishing creatures and events are happening everywhere - it’s just a question of scale whether we notice them or not." Paull's novel has definitely made me stop and take notice when I see bees busily buzzing in my flowerbeds, then flying away. Makes you wonder....
I chose to listen to The Bees. Orlagh Cassidy was the reader. She is a favourite narrator of mine, but I am very used to listening to her reading thriller and action books. I wondered how she would handle a distinctly different piece of work. The answer is - excellently. Cassidy's voice is unique, with lots of hidden gravel and nuance. She chose a voice for Flora that I both enjoyed and suited the mental image I had created of Flora. Cassidy interpreted the book very well, using tone, speed and inference to bring Paull's prose to life. There are some books I just know I have enjoyed more by listening, rather than reading them. The Bees is one of those.
The Bees has been aptly described as a combination Watership Down meets The Handmaid's Tale.
Read an excerpt of The Bees. Or listen to an excerpt of The Bees. You can follow Laline Paull on Twitter.