Nina is out of balance, has lost her sense of perspective, doesn't know what to hold on to and when to let go. She's grieving hard for multiple losses: of her home, culture, birth family and adult family. On a trip back to her homeland of Malta, she seeks answers, solutions, her self.
Caroline Smailes' two previous books were bravely, beautifully written, but unrelentingly grim. In Like Bees To Honey, she chooses again to deal with losses so great they threaten the main character's very identity, but with a lighter hand and some delightful touches of humour. I love the idea of a cool, skater-style-clad, toenail-varnish-wearing, beer-swigging Jesus, and I hope the author will let her sense of humour out to play more often in her future work.
In Smailes' previous books there was no forgiveness, no opportunity for redemption. This is important territory to explore, but so is the territory she covers in Like Bees To Honey: both the physical territory - an evocation of Malta so strong that, after reading the book, I feel as if I've been there myself - and the thematic territory of forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and the relationship between forgiving and letting go.
The structure of the book is interesting, as Like Bees To Honey is a frame or envelope story, with Nina's story enclosing other, shorter stories: of Elena, Tilly, Flavia and Christopher. Of these, for me, Tilly shines out: an engaging, angry, loving character with whom, again, Caroline Smailes uses humour to add a new colour to her writer's palette.
Almost all the characters in this book live with the supernatural as an accepted part of their daily lives. As an atheist myself, Like Bees To Honey might seem an odd book for me to recommend. Yet the key to a successful book with supernatural elements - whether it be a ghost story, science fiction, fantasy, whatever - is that its internal rules must be consistent for the reader to feel secure. Caroline Smailes achieves this with apparent effortlessness, such that the reality of the characters' lived experiences - particularly those of Nina - are utterly congruent, believable and compelling.