The Bees, Laline Paull’s debut novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. She didn’t win; but, she was in the esteemed company of Anne Tyler, Rachel Cusk, Ali Smith and Sarah Waters. Despite this (and other plaudits), I still approached The Bees with some trepidation. I like animals and I likes stories about animals (who doesn’t like Black beauty for goodness sake) but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to read a story about bees. And not just a story about bees but a story where all the characters are bees. Talking bees.
How wrong I was. This is one of the most innovative and imaginative novels I have read in a very long time.
This is the story of Flora 717, a bee born into the lowest class of hive society as a sanitation worker. Along with all the other bees, her role is to serve the queen and keep the hive functioning. Flora, despite her lowly beginnings, is special. She earns herself time in the queens sacred presence and she learns what it is to sacrifice all for the queen. Against all the odds, she survives internal massacres, predator invasions, and treachery within the hive.
There is so much detail in this story — and as someone that knows very little about bees, I’m unqualified to judge how much is true and how much is exaggerated truth or pure fiction. Despite this, I learned so much about the life of bees while buying completely into the complexity of their lives as told in this story. Parts of the book are especially tender; in particular, the depiction of Flora giving birth.
“This egg glowed golden and smelled sweeter than Devotion. Flora felt her body wet with liquid wax, and quick and grateful she brought it forth handful by handful building up the roughest crib directly in front of the cocoons. Then she knelt and held her egg close thrilling to its living vibration. Though slightly larger, it was the same shape as before – and Flora vowed that this time she would feed her little son everything he needed to grow strong – and discover what she must do to seal him in Holy time”
Like many others I know, it took me a little while to get going with this novel. Once I did, I couldn’t stop. My advice to anyone contemplating reading this would be to just go with it. Abandon yourself to the magic and dive right in. I can fairly confidently say you’ll never look at a bee in quite the same way again.
About The Author
Laline Paull studied English at Oxford, screenwriting in Los Angeles, and theater in London. She lives in England with her husband, photographer Adrian Peacock, and their three children.
Article by Angela Vincent Of Changing Pages | The Black Lion is a humble interdisciplinary journal that values your voice. Visit the submissions page to learn more about submitting to the Journal’s sections or to The Wire’s Dream Magazine. | Copyright Policy
Book image and author bio and image from Amazon. Header image from Changing Pages.