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Like Disney for adults?,
This review is from: The Bees (Hardcover)
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"The Bees" tells of Flora 717, born a sanitation worker bee - the lowest class of the hive - with unusual strength and the ability to talk (usually reserved for the higher classes). Due to these differences, Flora experiences a number of jobs in the hive, allowing her to build up quite an understanding of how things work (and helping to keep the reader engaged). 'The Bees' is definitely aimed at adults, with gore, violence and adult themes popping up throughout the book; but the overall feel of the novel contradicts this. Unfortunately, the result is rather confused - neither adult fiction nor children's story.
Through the course of the novel, the tone shifts from wild optimism to despair and on to panic. The reader's guide through all of this is Flora, who seems a little too perfect to be true. In the real world, a bee works at one job until they die, but Flora tries most jobs in the hive and manages to succeed at all of them. From the "flow" production necessary to nurse babies to the strength and energy to go foraging, Flora seems to miraculously possess all of these adaptations and is often better than bees specifically bred for the purpose. This makes the story incredibly unbelievable, and as a result the novel is difficult to engage with fully. The one flaw Flora does exhibit is a sense of independence, which is unbecoming for a bee. This is vital in keeping the story in any way interesting - without independent thought what is the point of a narrator at all? However, independence clashes with the devotion to the hive that a bee must exhibit. This struggle with independence against the brainwashing of a hive mind mentality is actually the most interesting part of the novel.
Factually, many events in the novel seem well researched. From the way bees deal with wasp attackers (piling onto them and "cooking" them with body heat) to their UV sight (which allows flowers to broadcast to them), these little touches add some real interest to the writing, and a genuine sense of discovery at several points. Unfortunately, were this accuracy maintained, a mutated sanitation worker like Flora would have been killed at birth.
Killing is a big theme throughout the novel. The fertility police prevent anyone but the queen from breeding, dispatching mother and child alike with murderous force. Wasps feel like second-class citizens in the eyes of bees, and so take every opportunity to cause suffering to their honey-producing brethren. And of course the dangers of modern life - insecticides, mobile phone masts and urbanisation - rear their ugly heads. It is clear that the author is trying to communicate a message, but this sadly doesn't really come through. And the plot itself seems a step removed from these ideas. Unlike animal farm, which carried a powerful, evocative message told through the prism of animal society, "The Bees" just reads like a story about bees.
The plot of the novel tends to lurch around a bit, but central to it - as to any hive - is the wellbeing of the Queen. This is a large focus of several sections of the novel, requiring Flora to regularly meet the queen. Once again, it would be unusual for any worker bee to be around the queen, especially a sanitation worker. The climax of the novel comes as a result of the Queen's actions, to a certain extent, and brings a major shift to the dynamic of the hive. Unfortunately, much of this climax can be predicted early on, sapping the excitement from the finale.
In concluding, "The Bees" feels confused as to what it wants to be, and who it wants to read it. I get the feeling that the story was intended to carry a deep message, drawing parallels with our own society. However, this lacks any power in the narrative and as a result the novel seems without purpose. Think less "Animal Farm", more Disney for teens.