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In Praise of the Bees Kindle Edition
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"The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell" by Robert Dugoni
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As Áine recovers, listening to the hymns and sounds of worship, so does her body. She observes a community of nuns intent on celebrating God and healing the sick, which opens up an otherworldly quality and a certain tension. We long for Áine to remember her past if only to find out the nature of her attacker and I can’t help feeling a stab of frustration for her as she fails to recall the most basic of women’s duties such as spinning wool. I think this is where Gleeson succeeds in conveying a mood of helplessness and fear. The characters in this novel are intriguing and as Áine helps Máthair Gobnait with the sick, she meets Colmán, a representative of the law who might be able to help find her kin. I could sense here that there was more to Colmán’s interest than just plain investigating.
Máthair Gobnait has an innate sense of wisdom. She seems equipped with some secret knowledge, whether it be from God or from somewhere else I couldn’t say. For me, this adds to the fascination of Áine’s condition right from the start. Beautiful scenes of the bees and their beachair, ‘lovingly formed from sedge grass’ gave me a breathtaking image of the time. We can easily breathe in the damp woody scents of the forest near the Sullane River.
The author pulls her readers into 6th Century Ireland with such ease you are hooked for the entire duration. Needless to say, her research is impeccable. I can’t praise this book highly enough.
Throughout history, women have usually enjoyed (as Aine did in the convent) or suffered (as Aine did under her cousin's mother's thumb) a routine life. Historical novels about women often make their lives more dramatic and eventful. I found IN PRAISE OF THE BEES a good change from the usual historical novel in its showing women's lives—and women's reactions to their confined scope—more realistically.
To show that women of strength and determination have always existed and have had some control over their lives, Aine's mentor is an abbess who really lived and who became a saint.
I do have some minor nitpicks. (1) To my knowledge, a person who loses their memory usually retains their abilities, but Aine had to relearn skills from childhood such as spinning, which I found unbelievable. The only skill she retained was her ability to play and compose music. (2) After Aine composed her first song, the one the novel is named after, I was eager for her to compose more songs. But she never wrote another one, which seemed unnatural for any skilled musician. (3) I thought I was reading carefully, but even so, I missed the point where Aine's memory returns completely. I also found unbelievable the complete reversal of her hatred of her cousin and her belief that he was behind the deaths of her father and brother. Certainly one can change one mind's drastically about a person as one gets to know them better. I just did not see any evidence revealed to clear her cousin of the murder. (4) Other times in the novel when Aine made an important decision, despite our being in her point of view and in her thoughts, her choices came out of the blue. Again, perhaps I missed the thoughts and events that led to these choices. Still, if I missed them, other readers would too. (5) Aine's intense fear of strangers, including women, was pounded home so often that I expected her to recover an important memory that would explain such a general fear when it had been a band of men who beat her and stabbed her. Instead, her fear gradually died away over the course of the book without its cause ever being explained.
Those truly are minor problems in a novel I picked up every moment I could to see how Aine continued to recover from her physical and emotional injuries and came to love both the other nuns, even the nun who disapproved of every joy in life (you gotta have a sourpuss in every novel about nuns or monks, it seems), and her cousin's family. It was a journey many women will identify with emotionally, even if they have not had the same physical experiences, and I felt part of it.
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story. My life is so contemporary complicated, how I wish to be back in those times in beautiful Ireland- during...Read more