Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars14
3.4 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£8.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

VINE VOICEon 24 July 2003
Many people think short stories are easy to write which is why there are so many indifferent ones around. Others believe than no short story can pack the punch of a novel. This book of nine beautifully crafted examples belies such thinking. The writing is spare but humanity within is rich. Susan Hill's characters are ordinary, unremarkable people but cannot easily be forgotten. A young girl from a circus family shares her sense of loss with a man she despises and through it they come to an understanding. A young boy performs what he sees as the most wicked crime in the world only for it to pass unnoticed and unpunished. Two daughters watch as for once in her life,their mother performs one act of simple kindness, whilst another pair of sisters think they love their father but fail to understand what love really is.
An air of melancholy pervades these stories but they are not depressing. The simple beauty of the writing and the truths they convey lift the spirits rather like a string quartet in the minor key.
0Comment|35 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 March 2004
Like many Susan Hill fans, her bleak and devastatingly heartfelt writing was forced upon me at school. For me though, it wasn't her Somerset Maughan Award-winning novel, I'm the King of the Castle or her chilling ghost story, then long-standing West End play, The Woman in Black. It was a quiet collection of short stories, written in 1973, called A Bit of Singing and Dancing. Despite my reluctance to reading a series of tales about stiff upper-lipped middle-aged and elderly characters I believed I would have nothing in common with, I was instantly lured into the tormented lives of these losers, loners, and misfits, and impassioned by the harsh purity of the stories.
Now, having taken in the highs of Hill's The Woman in Black and The Mist in the Mirror, and the lows of the frankly dull, The Service of Clouds and Mrs de Winter (her ill-advised sequel to du Maurier's Rebecca) I feel that we have come full circle, with The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read, another small selection of short stories about loners, losers, and misfits.
Of the nine tales in this collection there are Hill's tried and tested themes of bereavement, loneliness, disfigurement and the lurch between childhood and adulthood, are played out against the backdrop of remote rural communities, bleak unnamed towns, or off-season seaside resorts. Father, Father is about two adult sisters trying to come to terms with their father's new companion after their mother's death. Sand is about a random act of kindness that a girl's brutal mother carries out for a stranger. In The Punishment two young boys try to think of the most dreadful crime, only for no one to notice when they finally carry it out. It is this theme that threads through many of the stories: the numbling disappointment we feel when things don't quite work out, the pent-up frustration that makes us want to scream but we keep bottled up because we're so terribly, terribly British. The most heartwrenching example is the titular story, the ending of which is so devastating in its anti-climax, it is reminscent of William Trevor at his most finest.
She doesn't tick every box though. Some of the stories are so subtle they simply petter out, and Antonyin's, the only tale not set in England, is a bum note at the end of the collection with a final twist that is - well - quite frankly, naff. The descriptions - though mostly beautifully imaginative - are sometimes too simplistic, jarring with the more elegant prose. With this in mind, I found the collection a little disappointing in comparison to A Bit of Singing and Dancing. However, Susan Hill is still a remarkable storyteller, delving into the psyche of everyday people and plucking out inner demons for us all to see, and sympathise with. With literary-lovers bemoaning the death of the short story, it is good to see that in Susan Hill's hands, there is life in the genre yet.
0Comment|28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 12 April 2012
I expected much after reading the title story, which is poignant and interesting, but was disappointed by the rather samey themes of subsequent stories. Thereafter, tyrannical mother figures abounded, cruel losses and nasty life lessons repeated like a badly warmed potato.
The style was highly reminiscent of William Trevor, whom I generally find bleak and somewhat unpleasant. There was even a blind piano tuner trapped in a miserable relationship, except he was a blind storeman in Hill's version.
On the whole, Hill is more delicate than Trevor who seems to revel in life's petty cruelties.
The last story is Chekovian as the first
'Antonyin's.': An Englishman is happily entombed in a cold Eastern European peasant-zone and becomes entrapped by an ugly and boring woman determined that he should marry her.
My only question was- why does Hill keep saying he is happy in the first place? Despite boils, indigestion and turnip-smells? His female pursuer seems like an animated turnip herself, a Breughelesque manifestation of the freezing landscape and the revolting food she cooks.
Anyway, no spoilers, it has an interesting denoument.( No, he doesn't make mad passionate mashed turnip with her).
On the whole, this collection is worth reading, but lacks a defined style or voice, all the voices seem borrowed.
But isn't this Hill's forte?
She can out-19th Century Wilkie Collins and Henry James.....
Spooky.
0Comment|3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 August 2014
The images created by her excellent language will not leave you after having read these short stories. Incredibly impressive and often very sad.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 June 2016
Quite grim as it turns out but an engaging of country life in a bygone era which keeps the reader's interest until the wry conclusion which leaves a bitter taste.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 March 2012
If I were to go with an overall theme of `The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read' it would be death and loss. This therefore gives the whole book a rather melancholic tone. It's not a gloomy collection but it's not all singing and dancing (yes, that's a nod to her 1974 collection of short stories I have in Mount TBR). What we have is therefore a collection of tales at often pivotal, and emotional points in characters lives, their current situation or circumstances having been caused, in the main, being through deaths to varying degrees.

Because I started with `Father, Father' and `Sand' I think I was a little wrong footed from the off if I am honest. Both these stories of of mothers deaths and the effect on the daughter and unfortunately felt like the same story only one had been elongated. Therefore when I read `Elizabeth' which once more brought up mothers and daughters I put the book down for a while. I am glad I returned though as after this hiccup, mainly my fault for reading in the wrong order I am sure, the stories became more varied and I started to get sucked into the atmosphere and tone of the book further.

You see the tales `The Punishment', `The Brooch` and `Moving Messages' reminded me that Susan Hills writing has a certain quiet brooding about it, this is also the case in both her Simon Serrailer crime series and famous ghost stories yet because they are longer there is a meatier side too, and sometimes with these short stories this is done so delicately that initially you think `and?' but should you take some time out and have some space from them and the characters, atmospheres and settings they grow on you somewhat. `Need' with its circus setting did this particularly well.

The last two stories I read had the most punch, maybe they felt the most modern and almost instantly had an overflowing number of things to say? The last story in the collection `Antonyin's' (the only story set outside England) confused me initially, as a man and woman unknown to each other sit in a restaurant day after day staring until she asks him to marry her, but the twist that came moved me. The title tale of `The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read' was the one that blew me away. It's not the longest, in some ways it's the most simple of ideas - a young boy living in a mansion befriends `the staff' and teaches him to read yet how long can this friendship last, actually choked me up and it has resonated with me the most since, and not just because I read it last.

I cannot say `The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read' is the best short story collection I've ever read because some of it was a little too short, a little too quiet and peeter out too quickly but overall it's beautifully written and in parts packs an emotional punch amongst its brooding nature. Some people may find its quiet style a little old fashioned, I liked this, but regardless I would urge everyone to read this collection for the title story alone. I think it could become one of my favourite short stories and shows just why I am such a fan of Susan Hill's writing overall.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 8 April 2016
Beautiful book but so short. The pages are numbered incorrectly so instead of a book of short stories it is only one.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 June 2015
I am extremely annoyed at being misled into buying what I believed to be a collection of short stories when it is just one extremely unsatisfactory short story of 23 pages. The reviews which I read before buying the book on Kindle all referred to a collection of stories. Has a mistake been made by Kindle in the information provided?
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 November 2015
This is a review of the Kindle edition. Rather than the stated 216 pages, this is a "shortcut" of the book, just the one short story. So the description on the webpage is misleading. Admittedly, the cost is very low, but nonetheless I was assuming I'd get the whole book! Is the whole book not available as a Kindle item? That said, the short story is well up to Susan Hill's usual standard, so the quality of the work is not in question.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 31 October 2015
For some reason I was less moved by this than I had anticipated.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.