- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (May 12, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062331175
- ISBN-13: 978-0062331175
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (618 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bees: A Novel Paperback – May 12, 2015
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Imagine a story similar to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale but told from the perspective of an insect. That’s exactly the premise of Paull’s debut novel. Flora 717, a lowly sanitation bee, is born with unusual features and abilities that allow her to move fluidly between the strict hierarchies of her hive. Through this ability, she witnesses the brutality and beauty that the various castes of bees exhibit to keep the hive productive, all in service and loyalty to the queen. But when Flora discovers she is fertile and can produce an offspring, she must betray her instincts to worship the queen bee and follow an untrodden path that leads her away from her kin. Paull’s plot brings to mind films like the 1998 hit Antz, but her deft storytelling and her nod to scientific literature allow the story to avoid the cutesy trappings that sometimes characterize novels featuring nonhuman characters. A surprisingly compelling tale. --Heather Paulson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Fascinating… engrossing… Paull’s clear fascination with her source material brings humanity and warmth to a depiction of the remarkable social world of bees, which is no small achievement.” (—Huffington Post)
“The Bees is an extraordinary feat of imagination, conjuring the life of a beehive in gripping, passionate and brilliant detail. With every page I turned, I found myself drawn deeper into Flora’s plight and her immersive, mesmerizing world.” (—Madeline Miller, bestselling author of The Song of Achilles—Madeline Miller, bestselling author of The Song of Achilles)
“This is a rich, strange book...convincing in its portrayal of the mind-set of a bee and a hive. I finished it feeling I knew...how bees think and live. This is what sets us humans apart—our imagination can...create a complete, believable world so different from our own.” (—Tracy Chevalier, New York Times bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring)
“Told with rapturously attentive imagination...Few novels create such a singular reading experience.” (—The New York Times Book Review)
“Riveting… evocative and beautiful.” (—NPR)
“Richly imagined” (—Los Angeles Times)
“[A] gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.” (—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter)
“THE BEES is one wild ride. A sensual, visceral mini-epic about timeless rituals and modern environmental disaster. Paull’s heart pounding novel wrenches us into a new world.” (—Emma Donoghue, The New York Times bestselling author of Room)
“It quickly became clear that in its basic facts, the novel sticks closely to real-world apian biology and behavior. That is fascinating enough, but Paull deftly wields this information to create an even more elaborately layered culture of beeness…Beautiful.” (Washington Post)
“Brilliantly imagined…Paull’s use of human language to describe this tiny, intricate world is classic storytelling at its finest…The Bees boasts a refreshingly feminist spin on fairy tale-style plots….A wildly creative book that resonates deeply for quite a long time. (Austin Chronicle)
“It’s rare to come across a book as mind-blowingly imaginative as Laline Paull’s The Bees. It’s even more rare for such works to be successful, well-written, gripping stories...The Bees is an utterly memorable wonder of a novel.” (Kirkus)
“A marvelous work of fiction… The parallels to “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” are numerous but this story is also its own.” (Florida Times-Union)
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Top Customer Reviews
Not really. Actually, not at all. The Bees is one of the best dystopian novels I have ever read. Yes – I said “dystopian”. The story follows a particular bee, Flora 717, who is from the lowest class of bees in a highly regulated, highly stratified social structure ruled over by a small class of elite bees. However, Flora 717 learns early that she sees things and does things and thinks things that members of her class should not be capable of seeing, doing, or thinking. Those oddities bring her into conflict with her society and challenge it to the point of immense danger to her existence.
Sound familiar? It should. The story of Flora 717 blends elements of The Giver, 1984, A Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games … and just about any other great dystopian novel you can think of. And to make the story more compelling, every component of the telling, no matter how bizarre or unbelievable, is based on real science about the behaviors and capabilities of real bees. I found myself researching bees thinking, “That can’t be true” only to learn that it is true.
And then, to lift the story to an even more compelling level, the tale veers from dystopian to apocalyptic as the hive – the world of the Flora 717 – is threatened with destruction. And, as fate would have it, noble and heroic Flora 717 holds the key to the ultimate life or death of the entire hive.
The Bees is one of the most imaginative and compelling novels I have read in a long time. And I will never look at the humble bee the same again. Oh, honey!
THE BEES has transformed this reader. I have a deeper curiosity and respect for an animal that I once looked at with nothing more than revulsion and fear. I’m not saying I’ll be going out and making friends with my neighborhood bees anytime soon, but at least now I can understand their position. But I digress…
While I disagree with the comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games that THE BEES has been receiving, I can see the reasoning behind these comparisons. Fans of The Hunger Games will recognize the oppression of “the people” and admire Flora 717′s determination. The overall “feel” of the novel (of a young bee’s “coming-of-age” and questioning the structure of her current society) will also be a major draw for YA readers. (With that in mind, this comparison may be a smart marketing decision, overall.) As for The Handmaid’s Tale, I suppose you could find some logic in this when you consider the hierarchical position of the bees in the hive and Flora 717′s struggles in the later half of the book. But when it comes to the overall tone, plus the direction of the story and the manner in which it is told, I cannot help but compare THE BEES to Animal Farm. This book is dark, y’all. This book has a statement to make. As I have already said, THE BEES does for religion what Animal Farm did for government. I see this book as high school or college reading material some day. Or at least, I hope it will be. This is a story whose topics will easily withstand the passage of time and are so important for future generations.
For a story that takes place almost entirely within a few square feet of space, there is so much to be said about the inhabitants of that space. Their world is so grand, full of societal rules, an all-encompassing “purpose” and almost (who am I kidding, this is more than “almost”) fanatical religion. The creative lengths the author took in tying the bee’s world into our own are astounding. I wish I could point out every way that she makes her characters sympathetic while making them so very “other” and obviously bees, but that would be a novel unto itself…
Flora 717 may be the smallest character I have ever read about, but she is also one of the most fully-realized characters I have ever met, too. From the moment she’s born she’s… different. For her kind, “different” means instant death, but by the grace of a higher level bee, she is saved. Little did she know that her life would play a major part in a ploy for power, that so many difficulties would befall her and that she alone could change the fate her world. She is born as one of the lowest of the low on the hierarchical totem pole, but by both shear luck and her own abilities, Flora 717 moves through various positions in her hive. As a result, the first half of the book is spent associating the reader to the hive and their way of life as Flora 717 is thrust from one role to another. Her position is obviously uncommon for bees, since they are born into and usually die performing the task they were born into. She obtains a wider view of her world and is what we humans would call “enlightened” by what she learns. I enjoyed the tour, and Flora 717 is a most enjoyable guide.
The story is rife with matters of chance and fate, faith and predisposed role expectations — I especially appreciate the questions THE BEES asks with regard to morality, religion and leadership. Just because Flora 717 is born “different”, does this automatically make her a sympathetic character? Does the knowledge she gains make her decision “good” or “right” when she tries to override the mindset that has been ingrained in her people since before time itself? Will her every action be met with agreement by the reader? Although Flora 717 is the “hero” of the story, she does make mistakes, she commits crimes against society, she makes highly questionable decisions. Her mistakes, as well as the impact they have on the hive, only adds to the depth of her character, her world and the story. Never does Flora 717 think of herself as “better” than others, never do her intentions become overly-preachy to the reader… I really appreciated this, though, sadly, the fear that this could happen sat in the corner of my mind as I read, and as Flora became more determined in her “purpose”.
Ultimately, I loved where both Flora 717 and her hive ended up at the conclusion of THE BEES. It was fitting… and that epilogue was superb! What a touchingly sly little twist!
- Inventive, original, unique… All of these words – and more – will be thrown around when you see or hear people describing THE BEES. The book is 100% deserving of these descriptions.
- There is plenty of action and suspense. Correction: There is plenty of terrifying action and suspense. Even with the highly descriptive manner in which the story is told, I doubt that readers will become bored…
- … With that being said. Maybe some readers will grow bored learning more than they ever thought they would ever learn about bees. What do I know, right?
Come on, guys, we are talking about bees here… Let’s face it. THE BEES will either make you shudder to think of such a small space crawling with thousands of insects – or it will open your eyes to a world you have never known. I will say it again: I have always despised bees. I have always been that girl who will run away screaming if one comes within 20 feet of her person. But my eyes have been opened. Maybe it’s the idea of bees using “brooms and dustpans” to clean up messes (seriously cute visual!), maybe it’s the motherly way they look over their larva in the nursery, maybe it’s the endless thought of dripping honey… but I’m not so afraid anymore, but rather… intrigued.
In contrast, I think I now despise and fear wasps 10 million times more than I had previously. Thank you, Laline, for that.
THE BEES is destined to become one of my tops reads in 2014.