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RMS Book Club: The Bees

Author: Miranda Eason

Playwright Laline Paull’s debut novel and this month’s RMS book club book The Bees has been on my radar for some time. It’s been mentioned many times in the comments of book-related RMS posts and was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction (ultimately losing out to How to be both by Ali Smith).

The Bees is a classic underdog story with a most unusual heroine (a bee), and setting (a bee hive). Flora 717, the bee at the heart of The Bees, is born into the lowest class of bee society. She’s bigger, darker in colour, and less attractive than the average bee but, through a combination of bravery and a series of lucky breaks, she rises up through the ranks, from sanitation worker to the queen bee’s inner sanctum.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Laline Paull chose to set her novel in the world of bees, helpfully she explains why on her website: “A beekeeper friend died far too young, and though I’d never been particularly interested in bees, I started to read about them because she loved hers so much. And very quickly I realised that there is a world of drama and stories behind the walls of the hive, and my imagination flared up like never before.”

I love that these days you can find stuff like this out so easily and that via social media or at a reading you can have a conversation with the author. Can you even imagine if you could ask Daphne Du Maurier whether there was a real life inspiration for Mrs Danvers?!

Anyway, back to the book. Although I started The Bees on holiday in Formentera back in June, I didn’t actually finish it until last weekend. That’s not to say that it isn’t a great book, it is – it’s beautifully written, highly imaginative and tightly plotted. I love the message that anyone, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, is capable of anything. There are a couple of gruesome scenes that I found difficult to read (if you’ve read it, you know the ones) but they weren’t the reason for my slow progress. I think it was more that, although Flora did have many human characteristics, ultimately she was a bee and I generally prefer my protaganists to be human, at least at this point in my life. Does anyone else find that the type of book that appeals to them changes over time, with the seasons, heck, even depending on the day of the week? Sometimes I want something light and frothy, other times only the very darkest of stories will do. One day a modern setting appeals, another I want to get lost in a story set way back in the day. I think that, for whatever reason, I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for The Bees, and that on another day I would have devoured it in a matter of hours.

Regardless, if you haven’t already read The Bees, I urge you to do so, not only is it a great story, as almost every review says, I’ll never look at a bee in quite the same way again. Over to you, if you have read it, what did you think? Thought twice about eating honey ever since? Do leave a comment below.

For the next Rock My Style Book Club, we’re going to do something a little different, and celebrate this summer’s best beach reads. Let’s get together in around about a month’s time to share our favourite summer 2015 books, whether you’ve read them on a sun lounger in sunny climes, or on a hotter-than-Marbella commute on the Central Line. In case you’re after some inspiration we’ve been reading The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell (Charlotte) and Victoria Hislop’s The Island (Lauren). Looking forward to hearing about the books that have rocked your summer!

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Born in Yorkshire. Lives in East London. California girl at heart.
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8 thoughts on “RMS Book Club: The Bees

  1. Sold! I haven’t read this month’s book but your review has really piqued my interest and it sounds like a really great read. I’ve just started Feast for Crows (Game of Thrones) as I absolutely devoured the previous books last June as we spent a lot of time on trains in Japan but didn’t want to overtake the TV series (normally I’m rushing to read a book before seeing the film or TV show so that felt a bit weird). Don’t know if you’ve seen the size of it, but it will probably take me what’s left of the summer to get through. x

    1. That would be a very different experience for me too Kitty (holding fire on reading a book). Love that you read the previous books in the series on trains in Japan, what an amazing association! x

  2. I really wanted to like this book, as I normally like most of the books I read, but the more I read the less I liked it. I found it very difficult to imagine the bees right. Sometimes the bees looked like cartoon bees in my head and sometimes they looked like real bees. It was really difficult to imagine them in a way that the story made sense. I actually got very frustrated with the book and was in a bad mood, so that after about 70 pages I had to put it away. At the moment, my summer read is Life of Pi and I’m really looking forward to the next bookclub suggestion, which I’m sure I will like more.

    1. Oh I loved Life Of Pi Mia! I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who struggled with The Bees, the reviews I read were so relentlessly positive!

  3. I really liked this book and devoured it in a long weekend away. Whilst reading it I found myself sometimes forgetting that Flora 717 was a bee and kept imagining this bee/human hybrid. I definitely agree with the comments about never looking at a bee in the same way again. I found myself telling everyone to be careful not to hit the bees at a recent family croquet game on a lawn covered with clover!

    1. I know what you mean Sarah, I think I forget that Flora 717 was a bee from time to time and then something would happen (one of those particularly gory scenes for example) and I would remember!

  4. Enjoyed this book whilst finding it all a bit strange at the same time! Really enjoy the book club for making me read books I might not normally engage with!

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