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The Bees, by Laline Paull – review


Hello, and welcome to Shelf Indulgence, my new book review column.

I’ll admit, I’m a slow reader, often behind the curve when it comes to the new publishing sensation; I usually catch up by the third book, but not always. My tastes are eclectic, so you will find a mixture of styles and genres, both fiction and non-fiction in Shelf Indulgence, and a mix of new and old. Some lifted from my bookshelves, some borrowed from libraries, some bought from bookshops; a few downloaded to my e-tablet. Expect the conventional alongside the unconventional, and recent publications rubbing shoulders with a few old favourites.

I will be recommending two books in future columns. They will be recommendations, rather than harsh critiques, because this is all about indulgence. So go on, give yourself a treat: curl up on your favourite chair with a book, and indulge…

THE BEES by Laline Paull, 4th Estate (2014) ISBN 0007558503The Bees, Laline Paull

Set in a suburban hive (yes, a beehive) this is a simple yet captivating story, in the tradition of Duncton Wood and Watership Down. It was recommended to me by a biology undergraduate who was so enthralled by the novel that he based his entire final year project on hive behaviour. The Bees follows Flora 717, a humble sanitation worker bee, as she rises through the ranks. Flora survives human threats and religious purges, evading the machinations of the enigmatic Sage Kin, and braving a terrifying night away from the hive to bring valuable information to her sisters. And when she repels a hive invasion, she is honoured by a summons into the sacred presence of her Queen. But rumours of illegal breeding and murmurings of rebellion disturb the serenity of this once-harmonious community, and when Flora succumbs to a forbidden maternal urge, she embarks on a course that may threaten the very survival of the hive.

One critic drew parallels between The Bees and Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. I would disagree – if you’re looking for something deep and allegorical, this is probably not the book for you. But it is informative, entertaining – and truly compelling. Enriched by fascinating details of bee hierarchy and the ‘hive mind’, The Bees is an adventure, thriller, and romance rolled up into one rollocking good read.

Love ’em or hate ’em, I’d be fascinated to know what you think! Join the conversation by commenting here, or on Twitter @adgarrett1

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