literary fiction
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The Bees ~ Laline Paull

The Bees ~ Laline Paull

eBook, 353 pages, £2.99
Paperback, 352 pages, £5.84
Fourth Estate, 1 Jan 2015


Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous.

Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, meaning her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, ‘The Bees’ is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.


What can I say about this book that’ll do it justice? That it’s amazing? It is. That it’s magical? That too. That it is an absolute little gem? True.  As are every other praise you and I can think of. So, let’s get on with the review.

Laline Paull’s thrilling debut novel is a scintillating tale about a little bee, Flora 717, who turns out to be all but ordinary. Born a member of the lower caste in the beehive, the sanitation workers, Flora 717 manages to somehow escape the fate of all little bees born ‘not quite right’. and work her way up the hive. In the end, the survival of the very hive will depend on her, and what only she can offer her society: a new queen, free of disease and with the strength to assure the continuation of their community.

The Bees is an absolutely immersive narrative. It has to be, also, the most sensuous narrative I have ever read. Paull’s amazing prose awakens your senses like nothing I remember reading recently. And not so recently. It’s… extraordinary. And thrilling. Have I said that before? That’s because it is. It’s thrilling, exciting, dazzling, absorbing, engrossing, captivating, alluring, enrapturing, riveting, compelling, entrancing, transporting, transfixing and hypnotic. It is mesmerizing. It is a thoroughly memorable book. And I kid you not.

Every single sensory description in The Bees somehow finds its way inside you, into your senses: smell and touch are the most called upon, but the images are so vivid that you might end up, like I did, fully inhabiting all of Flora 717’s multiplied, amplified senses.

What else can I tell you?

Well, Laline Paull has managed to weave a few themes into her story. This is a narrative of triumph through perseverance and character. But also of how we can conquer when following our deepest, truest instincts, though informed by knowledge and experience — despite all the overwhelming trials and tribulations and all the perils it’ll have to face. On the other hand, this is also a story about the strife and struggle, and the triumph of the small people. I’d go as far as to call it a very, very subtle political allegory. In so many ways, the bee society seems to mirror our own human society, with its loftiest highs and its most sordid of lows, with all its incongruous and unpleasant ways, and all its moments of beauty and glory.

For a first novel, it is extraordinarily accomplished, and I am not surprise it won the prizes it did. I’m only surprised it did not win more. It should have. It’s a beautiful and rewarding, and quite impressive, little book. It’s gone straight to my Very Favouritest Books Shelf (do I not have one of those yet…? No…? Well, I do now.), and I suspect it will remain there.

It shows a depth of research and even (I would say) a love and respect of bees which I find not just touching, but amazing. I wonder whether, like me, Laline Paull’s environmental and conservationist concerns are effectively mirrored in this book, or if this is just a very accomplished writer taking her research very seriously. I guess the future will tell. But The Bees is a book that makes me wonder about the author’s innermost values as much as about the words she has offered us, to our absolute delight.

If you haven’t hurried yet to wherever you get your books from (I’m a strictly internet girl, as you know, so I get mine either from Kindle or Kobo). go do it now. Go. Honestly, just GO and do it now. You really need to read this book. It is… well, you tell me what you think it is.

Me, I read it all in one sitting, which is indeed a rare thing for a book to elicited that degree of fascination from me that I don’t even notice the hours go by. But this one did. And what’s more, Flora717 will be staying with me for a very long time, as will the name of Laline Paull as a literary novelist of outstanding promise.  I’ve been very lucky indeed in having found this amazing book.

Verdict: recommended
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelf: My Favourite(st) Books

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