Top critical review
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Good holiday read
on 23 November 2013
This novel was enjoyable enough but the plot, for me, was also unfortunately flawed so that I have nagging doubts about how much praise I have for it. In some places it was downright boring, especially when waiting endlessly (and seemingly for no other reason that to make the novel novel-length) for Lily to discover more about her mother, the crux of the plot. There were also a few too many convenient coincidences and clichés for me; without giving away too much of the plot, the romantic relationship that develops is particularly forced.
In terms of the imagery used, I thought it was clever to parallel the strong female characters with the idea of a beehive, led and run by female creatures, while its males are well-nigh superfluous. Nevertheless, with constant repetition this theme became dull too; by the end I felt blugeoned by bee, moon and mother imagery.
That being said, overall I did enjoy the novel more that I was frustrated by it. Its characters are interesting; I warmed to the Boatwright sisters, enjoyed evaluating whether or not I could stand the protagonist Lily (!), and spent a lot of time considering who was at fault for the way Lily's family relationships turned out - the latter puzzle reminded me favourably of Shriver's "We Need to Talk About Kevin".
Additionally, the blending of racial and political context into the story was subtle and well-balanced; aside from details of contemporary presidents and the build-up to the first US moon-landing, the portrayal of the Civil Rights Act through the understanding of a young white South Carolinian girl in the '60s seemed accurate and honest. It is presented without moralistic or apologetic tone to smooth the discrimination over. As such, being a product of her time, Lily's racial judgements are often shocking and unexpected and thus a particularly effective, attention-grabbing element in the novel.
Overall, an easy and relatively enjoyable holiday read, but not a novel to put much thought into.