The Bees by Laline Paull is a thrilling animal fantasy novel that brings the story of one worker bee to life. It was Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015 and Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction 2015.
The Bees follows the journey of sanitation bee Flora 717. She is born different from her worker sisters; she is larger and consider ‘ugly’ but she can communicate while the other bees of her class cannot. She does not stay in sanitation for very long; Flora’s differences quickly come to the fore and we find that she does not fit into the normal bee society roles. She moves from sanitation to the nursery, where she feeds the hive's young, and moves on again to become a heroic forager. Through Flora I got to experience all aspects of hive life – scent communication, hibernation, subservience to the Queen, blissful dances describing foraging routes, and the protection of the hive. Paull’s imaginative descriptions of insect life drew me in completely – I felt as if I was a part of the hive while reading this book.
Paull has well researched bee ecology and has made them both more human and more alien in this brilliant imagining. If you are wanting to learn more about bees but are not much of a non-fiction reader this book would be ideal! Much of what Paull describes in the book does actually happen in a beehive. While she has used her creative license in some regards, overall, it is a fairly accurate depiction of bee life. She has cleverly added in elements that allude to climate change and how that effects the bees’ ability to forage and sustain the hive. There is also a lot class commentary woven throughout the narrative – Flora’s uniqueness becomes a problem for the hive, as she represents change and disobedience to the structure established by the Queen.
There are many layers to be found in The Bees, however at its core, it is just a grippingly good read. Paull’s novel spans many genres and ideas so that there is a little something for everyone. When I finished reading this book, I felt highly attuned to the flowers and bees around me. My perspective was shifted, and I hope it can do the same for you!
The Bees is available now as an eBook on BorrowBox.