Review | The Bees by Laline Paull

51N7JrL9bKLTITLE: The Bees
: Laline Paull
: Fourth Estate
: January 1, 2015
: Thriller, Action
: 352

Imagine a thriller told from the perspective of bees.  Through the analogy of a totalitarian beehive, Laline Paull’s debut novel questions our perception of the world and our humanity.  With its startling political message, The Bees is destined to become a powerful dystopian classic.  

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker from the lowest class of the hive.  From birth, she knows her one duty is to accept, obey and serve.  When Flora saves the hive from a wasp invasion and becomes the first of her kin to forage for nectar, she catches wind of insidious secrets.  Plague, massacre, and religious purge bring death and discord to her home.  Despite her readiness to sacrifice everything for her Queen, Flora’s stirring of forbidden maternal love could lead her to commit the most sacrilegious crime of all.

She dragged her body through and fell out onto the floor of an alien world.  Static roared through her brain, thunderous vibration shook the ground and a thousand scents dazed her.  All she could do was breathe until gradually the vibration and static subsided and the scent evaporated into the air.  Her rigid body unlocked and she calmed as knowledge filled her mind.  This was the Arrivals Hall and she was a worker.  Her kin was Flora and her number was 717 – page 3

Beauty and horror mingle in this mature fusion of Watership Downs and The Handmaid’s Tale.  Flora’s story leads us through every layer of hive life, revealing nature’s unseen violence.  Danger is everywhere, from flesh-eating pestilence and soothsaying spiders, to the fertility police dealing out death to the weak and wayward.  Although the Hive Mind is a sinister metaphor, the way Flora and her kin communicate through dance and scent is beautiful.

Paull paints a mesmerising picture with descriptions of scent to demonstrate how bees experience their world through smell.  The complexity of her attention to detail is breathtaking, with underlying religious and political symbolism.  Throughout this entertaining narrative, Paull constructs lucid metaphors for totalitarianism, classism, gender inequality, eugenics, and religion.

Although the heart-racing pace reflects the fleeting lifespan of a bee, the plot never feels rushed.  Constant cliffhangers will drive you to devour page after page, never guessing what will happen next.  This novel has a claustrophobic, deadly vibe that will rivet lovers of the dystopian genre.

Whether you love or hate The Bees, it’s impossible to deny its clarity as a social commentary.  The complexity of the novel’s mechanisms makes it an important addition to modern literature.  

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