The cell squeezed her and the air was hot and fetid.
I first saw this book being read by a fellow commuter on the bus and, after some surreptitious glancing at the blurb, I became captivated not only by the stunning cover design (which is definitely once seen, never forgotten!) but also by the unique premise of the story. Now I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of anthropomorphised animal stories – I usually say no to the likes of Black Beauty and Watership Down – but there was something about The Bees that called to me. It is an incredibly ambitious and unusual book but in exploring the politics and social order of the hive it becomes an enlightening and though-provoking book too.
Despite not being my usual cup of tea, Paull’s investigative-style novel a convincing read. How realistic or factual her portrayal of bee life is, I cannot tell, but what it is is compelling and unique. The writing is succinct, fast-paced and hard working and develops a complex and believable society within just a few pages. There was no emotional connection to Flora 717, as she is set up to be a lens through which we view this strange world, but then I’m not 100% convinced the story is reliant on the need for character development anyway. It’s more focussed on detailing and dissecting hive life, with the audience set up as witnesses to draw parallels though the everyman character of Flora 717.
Paull packs huge amount into this book, with action on nearly every page, and I did find myself, at about half way through, questioning how this level of activity could possibly be sustained! Flora 717 is able to rise and fall beneath her class and this characterisation, whilst not necessarily realistic, allows for a fully rounded and exploratory tale that maintains a level of credibility throughout. The Bees is a journey and adventure novel that uses the claustrophobic environment of the hive to address wider social issues such as class, conformity and gender politics. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a book that gripped or entertained me but it certainly intrigued and changed the way I view the humble bumblebee forever.