The History of Bees is tagged as a dystopian novel about the world after all the bumble bees die. I love a bit of dystopian fiction so this slipped neatly into my shopping bag one rainy afternoon in the Canterbury Waterstones!
There are three stories, William is a biologist living in England in 1851 with his wife, son and daughters. He has always had a passion for studying bees but a curt comment from a biologist he respects greatly about how useless he is sees him take to his bed for months until his son is able to rouse him to pick up a book about bees again. William finds his passion and reads and reads whilst one of his daughters tries to share his time with him though he would rather it was his son.
George is a bee keeper based in the USA in 2007. His family have kept bees for generations and he is hopeful of passing the family business on to his son who is currently away at college. George is a mis-understood Dad and his humour often gets taken as criticism by his studious son, his son who doesn’t notice that he scraped the snow off the drive for his arrival home from college and who he desperately wants to join him in the fields to preserve the legacy.
Tao is based in China in 2098 and she hand paints pollen onto fruit trees following the world collapse after the death of bees. She is an intelligent woman who would have rather gone to study further but as a young girl commenced the work that she would always do, painting the trees, backbreaking and repetitive work that sees her get fined for breaking branches as she climbs the tree. She and her husband are desperately saving money to reach the huge total that the state requires them to have before they are allowed to conceive another child. They have a 3 year old who is curious about the world but not remotely interested in her desperation to teach him his numbers.
Each chapter is told by one of these protagonists as the book moves towards an apparently hopeful conclusion. I was interested to read that the author is Norwegian and researched this book thoroughly to try to understand the biological issues and the lifestyle and cultures for each of these people, she read a lot of Dickens to understand Williams’ perspective for example.
My review of this is “NFM – Not For Me”. This was the dullest book I have read in an awfully long time, I can’t remember having read a duller book to be honest. I was hopeful of a dystopian novel but by breaking it up into three narratives I think it totally lost that vibe. I found myself wishing I was just reading one persons story, maybe two but three was just too many. I found it meant that the pace of the book just died. Whilst the stories obviously intertwined, there are no plot twists here, they didn’t necessarily support each other. This perhaps could have been a book series, book one Tao’s Story about what happened after the collapse. Book 2 – The collapse. Or maybe chronologically would make more sense!!!!! But by doing it this way when the stories did not build each other up or explain each other, instead were free standing in their own right, I found it just didn’t work. On top of this I really didn’t like any of the characters. The author explains that the hero’s of the story are the children and yet they are very two dimensional. The stories are from William (get out of bed and feed your family you egotistical, pathetic man), George (so guess what your son wants to live his own life, what on earth did you think was going to happen?) and Tao (let the child play!!!!). I didn’t warm to any of them.
I always say that book reviews are like film reviews. I can read a film review and it will be a 2* from a critic yet I’ll see it and it will be my favourite film ever. You have to know what you like and some people may well enjoy this book. I seriously doubt it! But do let me know if you liked it, or didn’t.
I’ve just seen one of the reviews on the back says that fans of Never Let me Go will love this. That is a dreadful falsehood. Never Let Me Go is one of the most beautiful books ever written. I am a huge fan of that. I did not love this.