Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

My friend, who read it before me, described The Bees as odd. And yes, it is very odd. Certainly one of the oddest books I’ve read, and I once read a few pages of a book about an alien time travelling witch with 2 sets of biological parents…. I digress.

It’s odd. The bees themselves live by several languages; scents, telepathy, mind control, dancing, as well as some of them being able to talk. They have a class system, with some higher beings that can be likened to evil sorcerers. It’s brimming with fantasy and dystopian themes which can seem a little bit over the top when packed together in one little hive. They are bees with hands and a fanatical religion. There’s even some forbidden romance in there, unnecessarily. The low point for me was a bee version of the Lords Prayer. At least make their religion a little more unique.

And yet, I really did enjoy this book! All these factors do make it an intense read but not a difficult one. It’s an intense read because you are thrown into a bustling totalitarian alien world. The writing is vivid and fuelled my imagination. It’s beautiful imagery, that helps you appreciate the wonder that is a bee. The heroine is a flora bee, lowest of the low, born with only basic aims initially. Do what you’re told, worship the Queen. Lots happens even within a couple of pages which threw me and made me wonder how the book could be 350 pages long.  She’s a unique special bee (cliche heroine of course) that has many skills that transcend her low class allowing her to rise up through the ranks. And with it a personality and an interesting character emerges whom you want to succeed. It takes you through every part of a hive and every job the various bees must carry out. Mysteries as to how and why the hive works as it does unfold, as does the hidden darkness and control behind the glory of the Queen’s heavenly scent. The fertility police are Orwellian.  Despite the long twisting, at points apparently aimless, plot it follows through to a perfect conclusion that makes it a very satisfying read.

At points I could not put the book down as I was desperate to know what would happen next, whilst at other points it became too much and I would need a break. But I think that’s where the book succeeds, it really does enshrine you in the hive and the bees’ way of life and their struggles. It shows nature as it really is, despite it being fiction. It’s a small, rapid buzzing life writ large for human viewing. Time moves differently for insects. You get used to the strangeness and become a part of it as all the best books achieve with their reader. It is a world that is so inconceivably different from our own. Which is why you need to read this book, environmentalist or not. Especially if you’re not.

What better way to care about the plight of our environment than to see it through the eyes of one of the species that is suffering most. The terrors of killer pesticides coating thousands of pollen filled rapeseed plants. Bewitching ornamental flowers that call out with their scent but yield nothing. Precious collections of wildflower mowed down to barrenness. Hypnotisingly evil electricity pylons. The constant taint and ultimate power humans have over the landscape. A phrase often used ‘green deserts’ is haunting and rings so true for me. The British countryside is often little more than desert when you really think about it.

Much of it is scientifically accurate which helped to make it fascinating. Did you know that honeybees dance to let the others know where to find the best flowers? Sounds impossible but true. This book gave me new insights and a new environmental perspective. I’m also a little bit obsessed with bees now!

So I recommend you read this book. I rate it 4/5. If you want to read something different, or love the natural world go for it. You’ll never see bees in quite the same way ever again.

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