Bailey's/Orange Women's Fiction Group discussion

The Bees
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2015 Book of the Month > May 2015 The Bees

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message 2: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val I have read the first few chapters this book.
Do you want chapter summaries or broader descriptions of larger chunks of the book or a freer discussion without breaking the book up?

One comment on the reviews:
I took what the independent reviewer calls 'wayward anthropomorphism' as moments of humour intended to lighten the oppressive mood of most of the story. I thought they were too silly to be accidental and they made me smile. See what you think when you come across them.


message 3: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val Do we have a volunteer to lead this discussion?
If not, we will discuss the whole book or any part anyone wants to comment on.
Please use the spoiler tags for anything which might give away major plot elements too early.


lark benobi (larkbenobi) Hi Val--I'm interested in discussing the book with others who have read it but don't feel confident about moderating or leading the discussion.

One thing that engaged me about this novel, and sometimes irked me, was the level of anthropomorphism the author chose for her characters.

If you're writing from an animal's point of view your choices range all the way from Buck in Call of the Wild, who is so "dog" that he is almost the Platonic Ideal of "Dog," to Rat and Mole "messing around in boats" and behaving like small people.

I'm not sure how I feel about the level chosen by Paull for her bees. I wondered how others felt about it.


message 5: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen | 114 comments Poingu, I'm struggling with the anthromorphism. I don't recall having this issue with other books I've read. I'm about 1/3 through and I think it was when the bees started eating patisserie that things went south for me.

I consider myself to have an open mind to fantastical elements, and I'm a fan generally of dystopian / sci-fi, so I'm not clear yet on why this isn't working for me. But I'd love to hear other thoughts on the book and I'll certainly be checking back here as I read further along.


message 6: by Val (last edited May 02, 2015 11:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val There is something unbalanced about the anthropomorphism in this book. The scent trails, hive mind, foraging, reaction to threats, etc. is bees behaving like bees, but given the reasoning power to understand their actions. The patisserie, dustpans and brushes, etc. don't fit with that. I took it as whimsical humour at first, but then decided that it was distracting and the book would be better without it.


message 7: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val How well could you relate to the characters, particularly Flora the misfit bee?


Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 5 comments I enjoyed the weird anthropomorphism. It just made me laugh, especially exaggerated "maleness" and female subservience references. I listened to this one, and the narrator was good. I liked Flora and felt for her as she struggled with the differences between the hive mind and her mind.


message 9: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen | 114 comments I'm also listening to this book and agree with Karen Michele, it's a good production / great narrator. She has a 'dreamy' quality to her voice that works with the story.

I'm almost finished now and must say this has improved for me as I read through it. I still don't love it, but I am impressed with the completeness / detail of the bees' world, and the violence, while sometimes upsetting, feels totally appropriate to the story / context.


Jayme I just finished this and it is everything you always wanted to know about the inner workings of a bee hive with sex, drama, and violence thrown in for fun. Not usually what I read and I figured out the ending, but it kept me engaged and I enjoyed it.


message 11: by Val (last edited May 12, 2015 11:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val This is a fantasy about bees but did you feel it also had relevance to human society?
Did it have echoes of any aspects of human society?

My view:
The caste system and the personality cult around the queen as mother of the hive / nation reminded me of India under Indira Gandhi. Surplus males were not killed, merely castrated, and India is a democracy (although the declarations of national emergencies and outlawing of opposition parties make it a flawed one and not that vastly different from totalitarianism). Pakistan would be cast as the wasps.
(The author says she was thinking of ancient societies, with their priestesses and rulers worshipped as gods, but I only read that after reading the book.)


Jayme I did think of caste system societies while reading the book, but I think because it is centered on a bee hive I really didn't take it to seriously. I was more focused on the actual bee hive community and how a bee hive works than the human and society characteristics described.


Jessica Haider (jessicahaider) | 155 comments Mod
I've just started reading this book and am only on Chapter 2 but it's utterly fascinating so far!


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val What do you think of the way gender roles are shown in the book?
Is this role reversal or another type of male domination?

My view:
The rulers and all the workers are female so I see this as a female dominated society. Motherhood is sanctified, the mother's position in the hive is uppermost and caring for children is a high status job.
The drones are pampered, but their only function is sexual. They either mate with a young queen from another hive and die in the process or get killed off at the start of winter. The one who survives the winter does so by disguising himself as female. They exaggerate their sexuality and are drooled over by the workers; if they were human and female, they would have silicon enhanced breasts, collagen pumped lips and be posing for 'girlie' magazines.


message 15: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 18 comments Val wrote: "What do you think of the way gender roles are shown in the book?
Is this role reversal or another type of male domination?

My view:
The rulers and all the workers are female so I see this as a fem..."


Well put, Val!

It's been a while since I read this so I haven't had much to say. I found it hard to get into because so much of the "dialogue" was through scent rather than words but once I got used to that, I loved the book.


message 16: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val It is a work of imagination rather than a true depiction of a beehive and it is not entirely true to bee biology. So why bees?
Bees are threatened by many dangers in the real world. Did the book make you think about them?


message 17: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen | 114 comments Bees are pretty fascinating creatures. I'm actually surprised if this is the first widely published work of fiction using their society as a framework.

I'd love to know the author's thoughts, but I can only assume that their unique worker society (not unlike ants, but then there's the amazing hive!), and of course matriarchal structure, gave a natural framework for a speculative narrative.

I wonder if the current environmental issues impacting bee populations factored into the author's thinking?


message 18: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen | 114 comments Just reading your second question now Val, and yes, it did make me think about the pressures on bee populations. They have had significant attention here in Nova Scotia as of late.


Jessica Haider (jessicahaider) | 155 comments Mod
I'm about 60% through the book now. I haven't read anyone else's posts in this thread yet. :). I just wanted to mention that I still find it to be a fascinating read and am curious where the narrative is headed. I have some ideas...

My mind keeps going back to the blurb on the cover of the book saying this novel is Handmaid's Tale meets Hunger Games. (Two of my favorite books). I get the Handmaid's Tale comparison but am not getting a super strong hunger games feeling at this point.



I have a coworker who does beekeeping as a hobby. I'm going to recommend the book to him. I'm interested in seeing what his opinion of it is.


message 20: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan Marchant It took me a while to get into it but overall I really enjoyed it. What I loved most were the wonderful, evocative descriptions that painted pictures in my imagination.


message 21: by Cary (last edited Jun 05, 2015 05:35PM) (new) - added it

Cary | 1 comments I have been reading these threads with interest, but feel I have read a different book! Halfway through the book I was not sure how it had got onto the longlist far less the shortlist. I felt it lacked the character and political complexity of Watership Downs or Animal Farm, and the language was sometimes overblown(pardon the pun). It's not enough to have an original idea, there has to be the original execution of it too. There didn't seem to be a story, but Flora, as simply a narrative device, went from one event to another. It was clear what the outcome of her illicit activities was going to be, from fairly early on. I didn't get the sense that the author was intending to be funny. I also understood from my readings on bees that the males are fairly underrated, so it was odd to read them as somewhat revered. It did give some poignancy to what is happening to bees and what will happen to us/the world as a result, and the sense of a being/bee in love with nature because it sustains it, but I didn't think it hung together as a whole. I enjoy books with layers of meaning, and for me, this didn't have it. {spoiler alert} Flora also commits a murder, at which point I truly lost sympathy for her, but this is treated as nothing by both Flora and the text, and doesn't seem to fit it with the way she is otherwise portrayed. I am reading through the longlist which is mostly one wonderful book after another apart, so far, from this and Elizabeth is missing. So I was disappointed.


message 22: by Janine (new)

Janine | 80 comments I soooo wanted to read this. And I've got it sitting on the top of my bookshelf.. But I've got stuck half way through Wolf Hall (which I'm loving) and my work situation has taken off. Funnily I had to go overseas for work (Samoa in the pacific islands) and I took The Bees with me, but didn't progress so far with Wolf Hall. So I lent The Bees to a colleague who ran out of reading material and he loved it! All I know is that he said it's very intense and fast paced. But I'm even more intrigued now ( not to mention frustrated that I've missed much of the discussion).

Missing the group and the discussions on the monthly reads.


message 23: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen | 114 comments Cary wrote: "I have been reading these threads with interest, but feel I have read a different book! Halfway through the book I was not sure how it had got onto the longlist far less the shortlist. I felt it l..."

You're not alone, Cary. I was disappointed too. I gave it 3*, as I felt it improved, but I think I was being generous.


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