Book of the Week: The Bees – Laline Paull

I read this because it’s from our literary imprint Ecco—and because the conceit is so darn out there. This debut novel is a feminist, dystopic adventure entirely from the point of view of bees (well, a couple, wasps, too).

Real bees. Bees in the hive.

As I was reading, what drew me in is that it’s clear the author has studied bees and is applying that knowledge to a plot that is both fascinatingly alien and weirdly familiar.

Margaret Atwood, writer of the uber feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale, tweeted that The Bees is “a gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.” Emma Donoghue called “A sensual, visceral mini-epic about timeless rituals and modern environmental disaster.” And Tracy Chevalier wrote, “This is a rich, strange book, utterly convincing in its portrayal of the mind-set of a bee and a hive. I finished it feeling I knew exactly how bees think and live.”

Booksellers have been big fans from the get-go and this comment from the Amanda Beverly, the Fiction Zone Lead at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati captured the enthusiasm that many booksellers feel for the book: “Oh, my word!  I finished The Bees this weekend and I loved it!  By the end of it I was having heart palpitations, the story was getting THAT intense! I’m amazed that this is a debut novel. I came across this on my daily trolling of the interwebs and thought you would enjoy it.”

Reviews are forthcoming in the NYTBR, SF Chronicle, USA Today, on NPR and WNBC’s Weekend Today.

Dystopia meets the Discovery Channel in this audacious debut novel. Flora 717, a bee born to the lowest social strata at the orchard hive, is different than her kin. Her uncommon earnestness and skill lead her to various jobs…But Flora’s advances also expose her to the hive’s questionable social order and attract negative attention from the elite group of bees closest to the queen….The result is at times comic—picture bees having an argument—but made less so by the all-too-real violent stakes involved in maintaining beehive status quo (sacrifices, massacres, the tearing of bee heads from bee bodies). Dystopian fiction so often highlights the human capacity for authoritarianism, but Paull investigates bees’ reliance on it: what is a hive mind, after all, if not evolutionarily beneficial thought control? And while Flora 717 may not be the next Katniss Everdeen, she symbolizes the power that knowledge has to engender change, even in nature.”
Publishers Weekly

“If you ever told me that I would enjoy a book whose main characters were all insects, I would have laughed.  But I was very wrong, pleasantly so!  This is a wonderfully written book, full of lush description and language, and the bees were better characters than in many of the books I have read this year.  The blurbs comparing this book to The Handmaid’s Tale are very apt, but I would also add Watership Down as an influence.  This is an allegory about sexuality and female rights at its heart, only told through the eyes of bees in a hive mentality.  One lone bee strives to find her place in a chaotic world with rigid, fixed ideas, and she attempts to become a woman and a mother and express love while religious forces work against her at every turn.  Sound familiar?  It is also quite suspenseful, as the story twists and turns with enemies attacking from every side.  I truly enjoyed the book.”
— Bill Carl. The Booksellers on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, OH

The Bees (9780062331151) Laline Paull. $25.99 hardcover. 5/6/14 on sale.

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