The Bees by Laline Paull

Title: The Bees
Author: Laline Paull
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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This book is about bees. Like, actual bees. I thought at first that it might have been a metaphor, but no, it’s a book about the flying, honey-making insects. Which I happen to love. It begins when Flora 717, a lowly sanitation worker, hatches from her cell. Due to her “ugliness” she is almost killed by the creepy fertility police moments after her birth, but a priestess of the colony intervenes and as it seems Flora has special abilities—but more importantly, that those abilities are an asset to the hive that demands all members “accept, obey, serve.”

This is a hard book for me to rate. On the one hand, it’s pretty inventive; it’s interesting and it’s a unique story—a novel on the life of bees. Of course it’s fictionalized but it none of it really seemed outlandish; if I were to imagine what the lives of bees would be like, this novel does a great job summing that up. On that level, it’s a great read. On the other hand, I felt it dragged on for too long; it can get quite repetitive, and since I already knew a thing or two about bee colonies, I could guess how things were going to play out almost as soon as I started the book. At first it was engaging enough to keep me wanting to read, but the last half of the book was a chore. It was like, just get to the point already. I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to end and all the tension and repeated problems were not enough to hold my interest. This story could have been told just as well, possibly better, in less than 350 pages. Perhaps the point was to make it feel tedious, to reflect the lives of the worker bees, I don’t know; it just wasn’t as enjoyable after a while.

The book deals with bee gender relations and bee caste. I thought those themes were treated well, even if I didn’t end up getting any new insights.

If you ever wanted to read a fictionalized account of bee life, this is your book. Although Paull of course takes liberties, from what I know about bees, the picture she gives of hive life is a fairly accurate account of bee behavior and phenomena. She does a good job of guessing bee motivations and emotions and overall the colony seems like a strange, terrifying, and beautiful place, sometimes creepy but always worth it—basically a reflection of life in general, just in this slice we see it reflected in the “natural” world of bees. For the concept and parts of the execution, I think it’s great; but I admit I was a bit frustrated with how it dragged.

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