Thursday, December 19, 2019

Laline Paull - The Bees

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society—and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.

Comment: This is the last buddy read with my friend H. in 2019.
I think I got interested in this book back in 2016 because the blurb would indicate a cult like situation where the characters would act like living in a hive of bees and I figured the main character would rise above all the problems and would help her society change, etc.
What I didn't expect was for the characters to be actual bees and not humans who would be characterized like them for plot purposes.

Flora 717 is a recently emerged bee that, right from that moment, appears to be different from all the others. She feels and speaks which is uncommon for a worker in the sanitation level and she can even feed the babies in the nursery. 
The hive works because there is a hierarchy and Flora seems to be able to do everything that isn't supposed to be something she should achieve but as the story moves along and the threat against the hive multiply, so does Flora's wish to love, to be better and for that, she will go against all the rules of the hive and the hierarchy, including doing things she is taught to believe are criminal... will she reach her goals of being a better bee than fate decreed for her?

I'm not certain how to classify this book. I liked some details, I liked the idea of it but it was nothing like I imagined and I feel like I created an expectation that simply wasn't there.
I really thought this would be another dystopian story with the hive mentality to propel things but with humans that might be living in a bee-like hierarchy or something. Still, that the story is actually about real bees doing bee stuff is not what makes me think this wasn't as good as it could. I think the biggest issue for me is the fact that there isn't enough consistency in the story.

The characters are bees but, of course, they had to be given human traits so that we could have an actual plot and could feel empathy towards what was happening. I think this failed for the most part because only Flora and a few other bees had the human traits. It's obvious the book couldn't focus on every possible bee and of course Flora, being our narrator, had to look more special for us, readers, but then why is she special? Why are the other bees with prominent roles? I don't think this was explained or why would it matter unless for plot reasons but then... why writing the story like this?

This is why I think the idea of the book is interesting, the reader can learn things about bees, their life cycles, their roles in the hive, the kind of things they do and we never think about... if the characters had been human in those roles, the potential could be good. However, the way the story is told, and because the characters are really bees, there isn't a lot that can be done to get out of the path we have. For me, there was no point to be made with this novel except that animals, like humans, have rules in how their society works.

Now, had this been a sweet story or simply a fictionalization of how bees behave, even with human traits as well, perhaps we could interpret this in a different manner, but since the purpose is to exaggerate the hive mentality and how (in the author's imagination) maybe some bees might be superior to others in the type of tasks they perform for the hive, it's really a pity this went this dystopian/cult-like path. I say this because for me, I don't think Flora is a bee we can easily relate to or root for all the time. 

Flora, as narrator, of course is the most complex bee of all, she doesn't fit any pattern  - which was intended, for certain - and she acts as a changer, like those individuals that shake things up and make others have different perspectives. But Flora is a bee and there is a lot of limitations to her abilities so the complex human thought processes and actions and psychological inferring she often presents feel out of place, both to my perspective and when comparing her to the other bees, which are much simpler in their characterization.
It's difficult to explain but it doesn't feel consistent Flora is special and grasps emotional and psychological concepts like love, being a sinner and then can't be smarter than this and save her hive for instance, without doing things bees would not be able to do because they are just bees.

I've read, since finishing the book, that some behavior included in the book can be realistic and bees do act in what we could think is a weird, unlikely way and seen through that perspective, some of the things Flora and other bees do might not be that difficult to believe in. Therefore, what makes me a little more disappointed is not that bees can do weird things but the way the author chose to allow for some rules to be broken while others were not, why some bees can act normally and others don't.

All things considered, this was an interesting book for certain, the allegoric concept one I think was a fail but a few ideas, the notion this is a theoretical view on how a hive might possibly be reacting to the several issues around it (natural development, pollution, enemies) but Flora was not a completely convincing "heroine" and I didn't emphasize with her quest nor did I like how inconstant her characterization was. 
I'll look for other books featuring animals teaching lessons (like Animal Farm) which have been mentioned by some readers as being a better developed version of this book's apparent intended goal.
Grade: 6/10

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