The Bees: Laline Paull

A timage-4hriller… told from the perspective of a bee called Flora 717. This is a not a genre I’m very familiar with, and as a consequence I found it stylistically a little flat in places, however it’s one of the most original things I’ve read in a long time. Had I not just finished Familiar, which is also completely unique and fascinating, I would perhaps have been even more impressed with it.

Clearly very well researched, and fascinating for anyone who has even a passing interest in insects and their life-cycle. I’ve always been keen on creepy crawlies so perhaps I am predisposed to think highly of an author who has focused her imagination and talent in this area. The biological detail is immense, and woven creatively into the bees’ myth-making and social structures that drive the narrative.

I very much enjoyed the depiction of a totalitarian matriarchal society, where the bees are organised into rigid hierarchies by the ruling elite and weakness or dissent – even subconscious or accidental – are ruthlessly stamped out. I also very much enjoyed the depiction of the way in which the bees use their sense of smell to draw complex information from their environment, and the hints throughout of mankind’s almost wholly destructive interference with their delicately balanced universe.

One other thing I’d say in defence of The Bees is that it is (pardon the pun) sticky. It has stuck with me very closely; I think because of the simple, yet detailed way in which Paull narrows our focus into the single-minded perspective of the bee. I’ve found myself looking at my environment, and especially plants differently, and noticing flowers everywhere (it is summer after all).

At times repetitive and a tad predictable, but I think that is a failure of the form/structure of the story (which, given the biological certainty of the life-cycle of the bee, is necessarily predictable) rather than the writing or the vision of the author. It’s an incredibly brave and unique piece of work that is absolutely worth a read.

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