on 31 May 2014
I thought that I was really going to enjoy this book, it sounded right up my street. Unfortunately I was left feeling disappointed.
This is a story about mums and children at a primary school and how the author compares hierarchy and social standing of these mums to bees in a hive.
For me there were just too many characters introduced too quickly and the author did not give them any depth; I struggled to remember who they were and their place in the novel and this did not improve overtime. The way the author chose to switch from one to the other also added to the confusion so there were parts in the story where I had to go back and re-read pages as I didn't have a clue who I was meant to be reading about.
The pace was slow and dialogue contrived, none of the characters seemed believable and the plot (though difficult to identify this until mid way through the book) seemed to be disjointed in places and veered off the point so much so that I lost interest and it was difficult to make the effort to finish the book.
There were flashes of humour and clearly Gill Hornby has good powers of observation which did come across in the book but the whole story seemed flat, pointless, disappointing and I struggled to remember what was happening each time I picked it up to continue reading. Would it have been better to read in one sitting? Not sure, possibly, but how many people can read a book cover to cover in one sitting? The author has to remember that people can't do this and the story has to be memorable and engaging enough to make a reader want to finish it - this book didn't do this for me.
The many references to bees was also a little tedious - Bea being the self appointed Queen at the start of the novel, Clover and Heather, etc. all seemed a bit like overkill - I get that the book is meant to be satirical and there was a lot of well observed ironies, sarcasm and jealousy in the book but I felt that Gill Hornby focussed a little too much on trying to be witty and not enough on expanding the characters to engage with the reader.
Quite honestly by the end of the novel I really couldn't have cared less what happened, it wasn't sufficiently absorbing for me to care and having no real bond with any of the characters it was difficult after a few hours to recall what it was about! Not a sign of a good read.
Sorry Gill not for me - I can only really feel happy to give this 2 stars.
I would like to thank weekend reads for sending me this in exchange for an honest review.
on 1 June 2014
I thought the Amazon reviews were more entertaining than the book in some ways. It was noticeable that the 5-star reviews were almost all very short and seemed to have been dashed off with little thought, while the more critical ones showed a depth the more gushing ones lacked.
I found it hard to assign a star rating. i thought the basic structure of the book was quite brilliant. I did not agree with reviewers who said the book has no plot. The plot is hung on the idea of a group of parents - Mums only, in fact - raising funds for a new library for their primary school. I loved the idea of splitting the chapters into the drop-off and pick-up times, with the various events tucked in between. This very accurately reflects how rigidly a young mother's day is organized. The events picked were all very realistic in my opinion, very inventive and effective fund-raisers, albeit in a clearly prosperous home counties suburb.
So far, so good. But I'm afraid there were too many negatives. How many times does the word 'arse' appear? Far, far too many! It's not a word I associate with middle-class women, anyway. Such a limited vocabulary becomes very tedious. The conversations and arguments are not well done. I believe it is very rare for people like this to have direct cat-fights. In my experience, nasty things and barbed comments are almost always made behind people's backs, while they remain quite sugary in person to person contact. Georgie's rudeness at times makes her seem like someone with Aspergers, or Tourettes.
I agree with critics who felt the characters were not differentiated enough, and not particularly likeable. I am surprised more people have not mentioned Melissa, who seems to be placed on a pedestal for worship by all, including the reader! I found her degree of perfection tiresome in the extreme, as well as completely unbelievable. In addition to being beautiful, having the most beautiful house in the street, and having perfectly behaved children, she even wins the mothers' race on sports day by miles. The fact she would deliberately try to set up Rachel, whom she hardly knew, with the headmaster, beggared belief. Equally, any new headmaster who rushed into a relationship with the newly divorced mother of one of his pupils would be asking for trouble!
I also had problems with the moments of real tragedy, such as the Mum who died of cancer, and the husband who hanged himself, and even Heather's cancer scare. These sat very uneasily in a book which people have called a 'beach read' or a romp. I tend to agree that Gill Hornby has got all the ace reviews and publicity through being a sister and a wife of top writers. I also share the frustration of other reviewers who felt it was a superb idea, but not very well realised.
on 25 June 2014
I picked up this book knowing it had been subject to much hype and I was eager to see what lay behind the cover.
The book is predominantly about a group of mothers whose children attend St Ambrose Primary School and the ups and downs they each encounter. The story follows one school year and is broken down into terms. This book is stuffed full of steretypes from the queen bee to the hanger-on and begins with the 'dumping' of the protagonist Rachel by Bea, the queen of the playground. We are led to believe the reason behind this is that Rachel's husband left her for someone else but this is never actually clarified in the story.
I thought the concept was a brilliant idea, and that the basic plot was good. I can see why it had people talking as playground cliques are probably something the majority of parents have come across at some point in their children's school lives. Rachel's mother is a beekeeper and I enjoyed the parallels which were drawn consistently between the way the mother's interacted in the playground and the way the bees behaved. I thought this was an interesting element to include.
It's a simple enough story to follow, so if you wanted a bit of a no-brainer book, then I think this would probably fit the bill, however, it just didn't live up the hype for me. I struggled to invest in the characters and to follow their progressions throughout the story. The way these women speak to one another and treat one another makes it difficult to believe that they are 'friends', and the character of Bea is so transparent that it's just ridiculous. I get that it was probably meant to be a 'satirical' take on the way the playground can sometimes be but I just found it boring.
I thought the story had so much potential but it just never went anywhere. Add into that, the 'big' storylines Hornby merely breezes past, namely: suicide, divorce and breast cancer, it felt like she had copped out of writing something really, really good.
Perhaps I should have known better than to fall for the hype but I was very disappointed with the book. Maybe if you like your books easy to read then you could pick this up for the summer. Otherwise I'd give it a miss.
I wanted to like this book - but I didn't.
I thought, as chair of a PTFA myself, and therefore peculiarly placed to enjoy all the nuances of the school gate politics, that I would really get a lot out of this book. It seemed, however, so far away from the reality of what my experiences are, as to be totally alien in almost every way. I thought the characters were pretty weak, and the author had so many of them on the go at once it was impossible to really care about any of them - particularly given that the majority of them were pretty awful anyway. Then there were the comedy elements, which were, frankly, farcical and also highly unbelievable. At times the humour was very cruel and altogether the book left a nasty taste in my mouth.
I disliked this intensely. Primarily because every single character in it is so astonishingly vacuous and unlikeable. I kept on thinking - as more and more characters were introduced - that surely a twist would come, or an opportunity for one of the characters to learn something about the world or herself, or to develop an interest outside the school gate, but no, it didn't. There isn't one female character in it who has a career that she finds fulfilling and interesting (although a few are allowed to have badly paid jobs and complain about them). No character shows an interest in anything at all outside the peculiar school gate clique - and this seems to be accepted by the writer as being absolutely normal. The social events are tedious and ghastly. No-one seems to have any intelligence, or manners, or a sense of humour, or the ability to talk about anything other than the PTA and their children. Nobody progresses, or changes their values - isn't that essential for a novel? (The position of individuals in the herd changes: their adherence to it does not.) Characters who are feisty show this by swearing and smoking, and saying "arse" a lot, not by doing something away from the clique like, oh I don't know, reading a book or having a thought. I felt deeply sorry for their husbands (no wonder some of them left!), and terrified that I might inadvertently move to an area where I might find such ghastly women at the school gate. In her favour, there's nothing wrong with the author's style. She's a very good writer, clearly. It's just that she has chosen to write a novel that blithely assumes that all women are tiresome, dull little girls with the intellectual capability of frogspawn. We're not.
This novel takes a group of parents at St Ambrose Church Primary School and looks at the way their lives interact and change over a school year. There is Rachel, whose husband has just left her, queen bee, Beatrice Stuart, who organises virtually every event and holds court in the playground, desperate wannabee Heather, who longs to be accepted by Bea's clique, smart and funny Georgie and new parents Bubba and Melissa. The school also has a new headmaster, handsome Mr Orchard, who becomes the focus of interest for some of the mothers.
Much of this novel, and these characters, are stereotypes, of course, but I would guess that most mothers at the school gate will know people who vaguely correspond to these types. It will be a year of tragedy, changing allegiances, the organised chaos of car boot and cake sales, bullying, rejection and romance. It is Rachel's mother who has bee hives and the analogy between the hive and Bea Stuart can feel a little overdone. However, despite the shortcomings of the plot and the limitations of some characters, there is much to like in this novel. I enjoyed seeing how the course of the year changed the lives of those associated with the school and I particularly liked both Rachel and the permanently pregnant Georgie. Her deep love for her children was one of the most believable part of the whole book for me, as she tried to steer clear of involvement, but was always dragged in against her will.
This novel does not, thankfully, read like chick lit, but it could have been improved by a little more depth to the characters on the periphery of the plot, and you often wanted to shake Heather or ask yourself whether anyone would really have been taken in by the shallow and self centred Bea. An enjoyable, but light read, which will resonate especially with mothers who soon realise that the boardroom is nowhere near as complicated as playground politics...
on 2 October 2014
The characters are all derivative and stereotyped to the point of caricature, which would be fine if it was meant as a parody, but it clearly isn't.
The plot is so transparent that you can see all the way to the end from chapter one.
One of the most appalling pieces of drivel I have read in a long time.
on 24 September 2013
Like so many on here, I fell for the hype. The moral is, don't believe reviews in magazines, the publishers have probably placed an advert and the Hornby clan is a powerful one. Bits of this book made me smile, but most of it was beyond credible. None of the characters were likable. I especially had a problem with earth-mother Georgie, the way she was bitchy and critical of the rest of the group and so intensely smug about her own "raucous" family. Melissa had no personality whatsoever, or seeming motivation to want to be "queen bee". Poor Bubba, whose name I forget, whose son had special needs is mocked for not recognising this. Rachel wafts around, seeming extraordinarily unbothered about her marriage break down. School playgrounds aren't like this - yes, there are mothers you like more than others, and gangs of good friends, but it's a far more organic process, rather than a studied exercise in social climbing and ostracising. Women are nicer, funnier, more interesting and more complex than this book would have you believe. Good luck, whoever's bought the film rights, because you'll struggle to find a return on that investment.
on 8 July 2014
I read this book as part of my bookclub. None of us enjoyed the book - poorly written, weak characters, very little plot & not nearly as funny as the reviews would lead you to believe. I'm surprised that this book was published at all. Could the author be cashing in on her talented brothers literary success? Very disappointed.
on 3 February 2015
There is a reason it took me almost 2 months to read this book and that is because it was a little bit like wading through treacle. A real shame because as a school-gate mum only to familiar with playground cliques I had high hopes for it. The premise behind the plot is pure genius though it only dawned on me in the last couple of chapters what the actual premise was... maybe that says more about me! Sadly its execution failed to keep my interest. I found the characters over-exaggerated and fake. Had I not promised to review it, I would have given up on it. Disappointing on the whole.