The Bees | Laline Paull

The Bees | Laline Paull

★★★★

How do I even begin to write about Laline Paull’s The Bees? I read it back in April and this post has been sitting in my drafts folder ever since with half finished sentences such as “made me question so much” and “because bees are WEIRD” and “I have no more words” because I guarantee that it is the weirdest book you will ever read.

I’m here to help you out – it might be less strange if you know a little bit more about it going in than I did. So, The Bees, first and foremost is about bees. It is not a metaphor (well it could be, but stick with me here). It is not, as my friend presumed, a larger analogy for a future dystopian society. It is about bees, told through the perspective of a bee and stars almost exclusively bees featuring the occasional evil wasp and prophetic spider.

The novel follows the life of a bee named Flora 717 who, despite being born a low-ranking sanitation bee, is almost immediately pushed up the ranks. This is because she is not mute like sanitation workers usually are and is adept at creating Flow – the bee version of nursing milk. So begins her journey through the rankings of the hive. Flora is special both by being physically larger and furrier than other bees and through her many unique abilities. Her place is not at sanitation level, but it is fate rather than ambition pulls her through the story.

I think the most compelling part of this novel is how cult-like the hive is. It is absolutely fascinating. There were times where I had to remind myself that this was a story about bees and life for them is truly about protecting the hive and the queen first and foremost with possibly a cult-like loyalty when translated into human terms. But the parallels are uncanny from phrases such as “Accept, Obey, Serve”, referring to the queen bee as Holy Mother to the use of scent in the hive that calms the bees down, making them feel content. And, though it is never fully explained, the hive itself seems to be alive with scent and messages built into its tessellated tiles.

I think the strangest aspect of the reading experience is not quite knowing where Paull stops using factual information and starts using her imagination because the line is thin. Bees are strange creatures in real life. Only the queen reproduces. Male bees do indeed die after mating. Priestess bees can read your mind if your antennae touch-

Wait. That might be one of Paull’s inventions.

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The cover is gorgeous. Read it for the cover.

However I didn’t feel that the stakes were high till the final few chapters. The ease with which Flora initially starts moving between the ranks and the lack of early consequence for her rebellious actions means that I was never very worried for her. Plus Flora is quite an isolated character – partly because she is supposed to be one of many but partly because her interactions with others are either brief or with characters she can’t trust with her secrets. Having stepped away from the book for a while though I would definitely recommend reading this. The reading experience is a unique one and you will never look at bees the same way again.

Enjoy The Bees…at  least you have been warned!

 

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