Telling the Bees

( 7 )

Overview

Albert Honig's most constant companions have always been his bees. A never-married octogenarian, he makes a modest living as a beekeeper, as his father and his father's father did before him. Deeply acquainted with the workings of the hives, Albert is less versed in the ways of people, especially his friend Claire, whose presence and absence in his life have never been reconciled.

When Claire is killed in a seemingly senseless accident during a burglary gone wrong, Albert is ...

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Telling the Bees

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Overview

Albert Honig's most constant companions have always been his bees. A never-married octogenarian, he makes a modest living as a beekeeper, as his father and his father's father did before him. Deeply acquainted with the workings of the hives, Albert is less versed in the ways of people, especially his friend Claire, whose presence and absence in his life have never been reconciled.

When Claire is killed in a seemingly senseless accident during a burglary gone wrong, Albert is haunted by the loss and by the secrets and silence that hovered between them for so long. As he pieces together the memories of their shared history, he will come to learn the painful truths about Claire's life and the redemptive power of laying the past to rest.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Carolyn See
Some have compared Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh's first, stately and beautiful novel to The Remains of the Day, but to my mind it compares to the best of Elmore Leonard. There are murders here but much more than that: a series of glimpses into an entirely different and closed place. Just as Leonard might delight in giving us the world of bootleg liquor or undertakers, Hesketh presents us with the world of bees and beekeeping. Only a superhuman reader will be able to resist foraging through the house looking for that half-eaten jar of honey. We have mostly forgotten, but it is a magic elixir.
BookPage
Elegiac in its tone, Telling the Bees is a quiet, meditative novel, dressed up as a murder mystery, but more geared towards examining the intricacies of the human condition and the power of secrets when voiced than in identifying who killed Claire. As Albert slowly sifts through his fragile memories of the past, patient readers will be rewarded with a rich story that softly stings and is utterly unforgettable.
OC Weekly
The language of place is evoked so very carefully, so calmly and elegantly in Hesketh's novel... this gorgeous novel...will be a big hit and, if there is any justice, it will find a place on the shelf that is the Orange County literary canon.
Kirkus Reviews
Friendship between two beekeepers leads to tragedy. Elderly bachelor Albert Honig has lived in a California orange grove all his life, tending to several beehives. The neighborhood around him is gradually changing as farmland gives way to freeways and strip malls. The routine he has cultivated, imparted long ago by his own father, is comforting, until one day in 1992, it is disrupted when he discovers the bodies of his next-door neighbors, murdered, it appears, during a botched robbery. The victims, Hilda and Claire Straussman, sisters known as the Bee Ladies, are also lifelong residents of the area, and perhaps their bodies would have been discovered earlier had Albert not been estranged from them for the past 11 years. The estrangement becomes the central quandary of the novel, which weaves back and forth in time, exploring the longstanding but forever unacknowledged attachment between contemplative Albert and sylphlike, mercurial Claire. Bee lore, grounded equally in modern science and ancient tradition, is interspersed throughout, positing the life of the hive as a template for a human family. As Albert is interrogated by a suitably sardonic police detective, his circumspect narration raises other mysteries besides the identity of the culprits: What happened to turn Hilda into a taciturn hulk? Who inflicted the bruises on teenage Claire's neck? What accounts for 20-something Claire's long stay in Alabama, after which she returned with an infant? That infant, David Gilbert, supposedly abandoned by a relative to be raised by the Straussmans, will, in turn, become estranged from the Bee Ladies--based on the same incident which severed Albert's connection with them. Someone is eventually convicted of the murders, but a question remains: Was this truly a random tragedy or one as inevitable as a bee colony's collapse? The sheer oddness of Albert's world contributes to a sense of creeping dread, and his ornate diction successfully conveys his archaic sensibility, with occasional lapses in clarity. An intermittently arcane but undeniably original debut.
From the Publisher
"Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Hesketh's debut explores family secrets and end-of-life reflections. . . . [Listeners] in search of a heartfelt, thought-provoking novel will find what they are looking for in this journey through the life of an unassuming apiarist who knows more about his reclusive neighbors than anyone could guess." —-Library Journal Starred Review
Library Journal
Narrator Albert Honig is a beekeeper who has lived his 80-plus years in the same house, content with his solitude, his routines, and his bees. When he discovers the two elderly sisters next door have been murdered in their home, he is forced to relive memories he has suppressed for decades, retracing his 70-year friendship with them in search of the reason they were killed. Gradually, he finds the courage to face the guilt, happiness, pain, and love he has been avoiding for years. VERDICT Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Hesketh's debut explores family secrets and end-of-life reflections. The author's exceptional storytelling skills allow us not only to understand Albert's feelings, but to experience those emotions right along with him. Readers in search of a heartfelt, thought-provoking novel will find what they are looking for in this journey through the life of an unassuming apiarist who knows more about his reclusive neighbors than anyone could guess. [See Prepub Alert, 9/27/12.]—Katie Wernz, Powell, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399159053
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/7/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 495,001
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author


A longtime journalist, Hesketh teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California, Irvine. Telling the Bees is her first novel.

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013

    Released only on March 7th, I'm still just shaking my head at wh

    Released only on March 7th, I'm still just shaking my head at what a good read this book is. Great writing, can't put down pacing, terrific characters, deep emotional life, these are just some of the reasons you need to go out a buy a dozen copies and give them (all but one) to your loved ones so that you can share the experience. NOT TO BE MISSED!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2013

    Excellent!!!

    WOW! What a great novel. Great characterization. Interesting plot. Unusual setting. Do not miss this book. A+++ job. This desires an award.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Telling the Bees is a novel to be read slowly. Hesketh writes wi

    Telling the Bees is a novel to be read slowly. Hesketh writes with a patient, careful eye to detail. Be mindful of the words of Albert, the protagonist. "Quick answers are not always the same as the right ones. I find that the truth I seek is most often apparent to me when I take the time to listen." This is a book of unspoken secrets and deep concealed love. The mystery of this book spins and spirals into cobwebs cocooned in memory. Listen, and you will be given insight into the true mystery. Listen, and what will you find?
    A panoramic view of the human heart.




    The novel is told through the eyes of the protagonist, Albert, who possesses the same quiet, predictable nature as his bees. Many people are afraid of bees; Albert is fearful of people. He attributes to his bees a human-like nature: their intricate social order and seasonal predictability. Deeply tuned to nature, bees are his family and his blueprint for how to live. His life is focused on contemplating human social structure vs. that of bees. "Beehives, like any human household, have a temperament every bit as distinctive as the dominant personalities that reside within."




    Early in the book, Albert is invited to tea at his neighbors house, where he meets Claire--his one true love. Drinking his tea from a gold leaf cup, one feels a foreshadowing of his future, as if the tea leaves left behind have fated him to a distant and everlasting connection to Claire.




    Later on, Claire unexpectedly leaves Albert to go to a destination she won't reveal; he pleads with her to tell him her secret. Claire refuses--she knows that Albert is unable to keep a secret if it forces him to lie. However, during this exchange, we see the first overt emotion Albert displays when he asks, "But why, Claire?" He thinks to himself, "If I were as divorced from my feelings as Claire claimed, why could I not conjure up a single logical reason to persuade her to stay? Why did I feel as if there wasn't enough oxygen in all the world to fill my lungs?"
    She goes on to say, "Haven't you ever wanted to see the world, Albert?" He replies, "All I care about in the world is right here with me." It's not hard to deduce that he's referring, in part, to Claire. And again, later on in the story, ". . . I could imagine myself Claire's heroic rescuer--her knight in shining armor who stood up for her when no one else would. But what I allowed myself to imagine, and what I could realistically be expected to act upon, were to entirely different matters."




    Here begins the secrets, lies, omissions, truths, and shades of gray that are at the heart of this novel.




    After Albert finds Claire and her sister dead (The Bee Ladies) in their house, Detective Grayson appears on the scene and initially has only a reticent connection to Albert. They start getting closer when Albert recognizes that the detective has the same careful eye to detail, the same reflective, conflicted personality as Albert. Both feel a sense of duty to do the right thing. Albert believes he lives by the Good Book--again, no room for secrets or lies or sins of omission. However, Albert is able to keep secrets from the detective, all in an effort to protect Claire, the one valiant thing he can do for her after her death. "When I thought for a moment of all the things I should have said or done in my life, all the real and imagined crimes of commission and omission, and all the reasons and regrets I had accumulated in the face of everything that had gone before, I could not help feeling this on small silence was the very least of my transgressions."




    Pay attention to the philosophical quotes spread throughout; you will see that Albert tries to understand human nature via his books. He's read the dream-team of philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately they are words on paper and exude only logic, not the emotions necessary to understand human interaction. He feels a kinship to St. Augustine; the comprehensive point being that Augustine applied philosophical analysis and reasoning to the issues of religion. Mere belief without questioning and seeking the truth were not sufficient for a genuine faith. Augustine quotes, "We are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone." Albert states,"There are some things philosophy can't teach you." And later in the narrative, "Truth, I was forced to conclude, is an elusive science at best and philosophy is the cold comfort we take in our doubt."




    Claire's ultimate frustration with Albert is that he resists any kind of change, leaves no room for the unexpected, and trusts only reason. He cannot step out of his faithful safety zone, while Claire understands that change is an undeniable reality. The fundamental difference between Albert and Clair is that Clair has a zest for life that Albert cannot seem to grasp. She states, "I'm the ship, you're the mooring."




    Toward the end of the novel, with the detective asking ever more questions, Albert finally admits, "The truth is often quite different from the facts." Albert's not so solid world is beginning to crumble.




    Albert does not realize, until it's too late, that he's lived with an unbearably pious life, and through his memories, his love, he begins to shed his skin and admit that he might have been less than he should have been. His vision is also a flashback to what he could have had. "And so I am left with nothing but memories."




    He gazes at the moon, and imagines Claire to be Artemis; he gazes at the stars every night, thinking of Claire. The stars are as cold as he was to Claire, and as distant as Claire to him.




    We can't always be what we want to be, what we wished we could be....




    This story is tells of lovers that only meet in dreams of a past light, but a light so bright it will cast an ethereal glow over the rest of his life.




    Describing a dying hive, Albert says, ". . . The Circle is broken, the order of the hive abrogated, and, for all the best intentions in the world, the colony dies. But it does so slowly and insidiously . . . the doomed hive falls into what can only be described as a state of deep despair . . . the lifeblood of the hive, those who are left to grow old and die, alone and unmourned, take to standing about the entrance of the hive and staring lethargically out at the world they no longer care to partake of on any significant level.The are, for all intents and purposes, dead long before their wings stop beating."

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Wonderfully literate book!

    This is a story about people - but the person telling the story likens it all to how bee hives run and relate to their environment. This book has some of the most beautifully written sentences I have read in a long time. I went back and reread some parts just for the beauty of their construction.

    We follow the characters from their childhood to old age, we feel as if we know these people on some level. This is a story without cliches, without "wiseguy dialogue" and surface unnecessary words - just a compelling story beautifully written.

    One of the few books I have read lately that I will definitely reread.

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  • Posted April 14, 2013

    The story is good.  The facts about the bees get boring, and I f

    The story is good.  The facts about the bees get boring, and I found myself skimming over them, but I understand that that's how Albert relates to the world.  I felt like there wasn't really any conflict, you were just experiencing Albert's memories along with him.  There were many touching parts to this book but I found some of it very predictable.  All in all, it's an okay book, but not something I'd read again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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