Set in 1960's America, The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily Owens, a young girl, whose life is haunted by the accidental death of her mother....moreSet in 1960's America, The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily Owens, a young girl, whose life is haunted by the accidental death of her mother. After her mother's death, Lily is raised by her abusive father and by a black nanny, Rosaleen. Whilst on her way to register to vote, Rosaleen insults three of the county's most vehement racists and is beaten and jailed. Fearing that Rosaleen will be killed by her attackers, Lily helps her escape from the hospital where she is being treated and held prisoner, and together they go on the run. Still questioning her mother's death and love, Lily heads toward a town where she believes her mother once lived. There she finds the beekeeping Boatwright sisters, May, June and August, who take her in. Living in their house, she finally discovers the truth about her mother, as well unconditional love and peace of mind.
I finished The Secret Life of Bees about a week ago, and I've been mulling it over ever since. On the whole, it was an enjoyable read, but there was something a little off about it, and I still can't quite put my finger on what it was. It might have been the writing itself. There were some great descriptions and figures of speech that were truly inspired, but some of it seemed to wander all over the place. It might have been the story. It is a story that deals with racism, but for me it was a little twee in places, not as gritty and uncomfortable as others I've read. It might have been the characters. While they were not strictly stereotypical, there was enough about them for me to want to call them predictable. It might have been the author's use of time. On the odd occasion I did lose a sense of how fast the story was progressing. I remember at one point, feeling as if Lily had been a part of the Boatwright house for months, and then reading that only a week had passed. It might have been the moral of the story. I did feel things got preachy toward the end, and what could have been left to the reader to intuit was spelled out too clearly.
Having said all that, I did appreciate all the little snippets of bee information at the start of each chapter. Once I had read each chapter, I went back and read them again and marvelled at how well the suited the subject of the chapter. A nice touch. I was left thinking that it would be a much better world if we could just get along like the bees do! Stories about injustice, inequality and unfairness always make me angry, and this one was no exception. It's a good anger though, it's an anger that reminds me that when things are wrong we should all do our part to combat them.(less)
Bruno is nine years old, and, like most children, he is completely oblivious to anything that doesn't directly affect him. All he is concerned about i...moreBruno is nine years old, and, like most children, he is completely oblivious to anything that doesn't directly affect him. All he is concerned about is that his father, a Commandant in the German army, is moving him and his family away from their friends, family and comfortable home in Berlin to a run-down house in the middle of nowhere, where the only thing of note is a fence that runs for miles and separates them from the people who live on the other side, the people in the striped pyjamas. One day, friendless and bored, Bruno decides to follow the fence to find out where it goes and meets Shmuel, a boy whose head is shorn, who wears striped pyjamas and who has also been uprooted from his home and family. But that's where their similarities end. Nevertheless they become firm friends, drawn together by their shared feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
To say any more about the plot would ruin what, in my opinion, is a stunning ending. I won't say I couldn't see it coming, but it still stunned me when it hit. And it does hit. It really is hard to say anything else without spoiling things for those who haven't read it yet.
For me, this book is about how children see the world, how what seems earth-shatteringly important to adults, has no meaning to the young and vice versa. It reads like a fable, and I think it has a lesson to teach us all about the dangers of thinking of humankind in terms of 'them and us'. Whenever we come across a fence, we should tear it down.(less)
In her Afterword to this book, Toni Morrison writes that she wanted The Bluest Eye to be moving rather than touching. In my opinion. she certainly ach...moreIn her Afterword to this book, Toni Morrison writes that she wanted The Bluest Eye to be moving rather than touching. In my opinion. she certainly achieved her aim. This is a story which explores some of humanity's darkest issues: racism and child abuse in its many forms, and Morrison doesn't pussy-foot around these issues, she confronts them head on, and in graphic detail.
Pecola, a young black girl, believes she is ugly, and that having blue eyes (like the white girls she admires) will make her beautiful. She is bullied at school and neglected by her family. Eventually, she is raped by her father and becomes pregnant with his child, and, after being ostracised by her community, she finally succumbs to severe mental illness.
What makes this story both more and less bearable for me is that Morrison gives each of her characters a history which allowed me to understand (and sometimes sympathise with) even the vilest of the offenders in Pecola's life.
The prose itself is a joy to read, which makes the subject matter seem all the more dire.
This is an amazing book, both beautifully written and horribly uncomfortable. It roused all sorts of emotion in me: At the start of the book, I found...moreThis is an amazing book, both beautifully written and horribly uncomfortable. It roused all sorts of emotion in me: At the start of the book, I found I could muster little sympathy for any of the four main characters; they all came across as fairly unpleasant. But by the end of the book, my heart broke for all of them, even Bernhard (who I found hard like at all, even given his difficult upbringing and wartime experiences). The way the book is written--from alternating points of view, and jumping around in place and time--allowed me to get to know and understand all the characters, their past, their present, their motivations. I was confronted with the sheer horror of war, and felt overwhelmingly grateful for the comfortable and safe lives that I and my family live. And perhaps the most difficult aspect of this book for me was the awful, awful racism that white, British people (and white American GIs) showed to the black immigrants and soldiers. It boggles my mind that people could be so cruel and unloving, especially when confronting a common enemy.
This is a superb book that will haunt me for a long time. I would love to read it again some day, and will certainly look out for more writing from Andrea Levy.(less)
Having had this book recommended to me by several people, I had very high hopes for it. I am pleased to report I was not disappointed. However, this i...moreHaving had this book recommended to me by several people, I had very high hopes for it. I am pleased to report I was not disappointed. However, this is a book for which you need to keep all your wits about you. The following quote from the book nicely sums up its potential for confusion:
”The History of Love starts when Alma is ten, right?” I said. My mother looked up and nodded. “Well how old is she when it ends?” “It’s hard to say. There are so many Almas in the book.” “How old is the oldest?” “Not very. Maybe twenty.” “So the book ends when Alma is only twenty?” “In a way. But it’s more complicated than that. She isn’t even mentioned in some chapters. And the whole sense of time and history in the book is very loose.”
Having realised not far into the novel that it was going to keep me on my toes, I slowed down and tried to digest every word so I didn’t get lost. This may sound like hard work, but the effort was well worth it; by the end I was in floods of tears. The last page is breathtaking in its simplicity, and having come to know the two characters involved, I could do nothing else but cry for them. It has left me in a very melancholy mood, but that is no bad thing.
The writing is beautiful, the characters are sensitively and convincingly drawn, the plot is complex, but the story is both simple and pure, funny and sad. A delight to read. I can’t wait to read it again.(less)
In this rich and exquisitely evocative novel, nine-year-old April moves with her family to a quiet Kent village and becomes the best friend of Ruby (t...moreIn this rich and exquisitely evocative novel, nine-year-old April moves with her family to a quiet Kent village and becomes the best friend of Ruby (the neglected daughter of the local publicans) and the object of the sinister Mr Greenidge's affections, and, along with a cast of convincing characters, brings 1950's life into sharp and nostalgic relief.(less)
Although the first part of this book reads more like a lecture on theology and zoology than an actual story, from the moment young Pi finds himself in...moreAlthough the first part of this book reads more like a lecture on theology and zoology than an actual story, from the moment young Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a 450lb Bengal tiger, a wounded zebra, a grieving orang-utan and a ruthless hyena it becomes a gripping tale of hope, disappointment and survival that made me both laugh and cry: mesmerising.(less)
This is the vivid story of nine-year-old Michelle Amitrano, who, out playing with his friends in the scorching Italian summer of 1978, discovers a sec...moreThis is the vivid story of nine-year-old Michelle Amitrano, who, out playing with his friends in the scorching Italian summer of 1978, discovers a secret so devastating that he is forced to choose between obeying the parents he loves and doing what he knows is right. Disturbing, heartrending and unputdownable. The ending left me desperate for more.(less)
The most gripping and darkly humorous of the three Jackson Brodie mysteries finds him, once again, in Scotland up to his eyeballs in the events of oth...moreThe most gripping and darkly humorous of the three Jackson Brodie mysteries finds him, once again, in Scotland up to his eyeballs in the events of other people’s lives as well as fighting for his own, and the craftiness with which it is written makes for a breathtaking and satisfying read.(less)