When The Bees was published it completely passed me by, I didn’t see any reviews or even notice it in the shops. I still didn’t notice it when it made the Bailey’s long list, but when it was shortlisted I was intrigued. Its front and back cover is adorned with accolades from Margaret Atwood, Madeline Milller, Emma Donoghue and the press. I’m really interested in bees and quite like a good dystopia so this seemed right up my street. And then when I won a set of the shortlisted books (see previous post) it shot right up to the top of my TBR list.
Effectively living their lives in a drugged stupor, the bees live by the motto “accept, obey, serve” in this totalitarian society ruled by the Queen and the Sage priestesses. Born into the lowest ‘class’ of bees, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker bred to clean the hive, neither to be seen nor heard. However somehow she can speak and is singled out to first work in the nursery, then after battling a wasp to meet the Queen and later is allowed to become a forager leaving the hive in search of previous nectar and pollen. As both internal and external threats to the hive mount, Flora begins to quietly, in spite of herself, rebel.
I’m not sure where to start in writing what I think about this book. I found the alien world of the bees very difficult to picture, not helped by the very simple writing style. I thought the prose was too plain, almost childlike; so much so that I kept checking that it wasn’t actually YA. The plot is interesting but ultimately a little predictable and not completely original (think Watership Down, Animal Farm etc). I enjoyed it I suppose, I never found it a struggle and wished I was nearing the end but I really can’t understand why it made the Bailey’s shortlist when some really excellent, well-written and thought-provoking books like Elizabeth is Missing, Station Eleven and I Am China didn’t.