The Bees: A Novel

( 14 )

Overview

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.

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 ...

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The Bees: A Novel

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Overview

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.

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 an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into 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 fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.

Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Emma Straub
Laline Paull's ambitious and bold first novel…is told with…rapturously attentive imagination…the tale zooms along with…propulsive and addictive prose…Forward-thinking teachers of high school environmental science and biology will add The Bees to their syllabuses in a flash. Not only is this novel a gripping story of a single bee's life, it is also an impossibly well-observed guide to the important role bees play in our human lives. When I finished the book, I stepped outside my door and into a spring day, full of buzzing and pollen, and I wanted to thank each and every bee for its service. Few novels create such a singular reading experience. The buzz you will hear surrounding this book and its astonishing author is utterly deserved.
Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
Dystopia meets the Discovery Channel in this audacious debut novel. Flora 717, a bee born to the lowest social strata at the orchard hive, is different than her kin. Her uncommon earnestness and skill lead her to various jobs—from child rearing to food gathering—and earn her the respect and admiration of her peers. But Flora’s advances also expose her to the hive’s questionable social order and attract negative attention from the elite group of bees closest to the queen. Like Animal Farm for the Hunger Games generation, Paull’s book features characters who are both anthropomorphized and not—insects scientifically programmed to “Accept, Obey and Serve,” but who also find themselves capable of questioning that programming. The result is at times comic—picture bees having an argument—but made less so by the all-too-real violent stakes involved in maintaining beehive status quo (sacrifices, massacres, the tearing of bee heads from bee bodies). Dystopian fiction so often highlights the human capacity for authoritarianism, but Paull investigates bees’ reliance on it: what is a hivemind, after all, if not evolutionarily beneficial thought control? And while Flora 717 may not be the next Katniss Everdeen, she symbolizes the power that knowledge has to engender change, even in nature. (May)
Margaret Atwood
“[A] gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.”
Emma Donoghue
“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.”
—Tracy Chevaliera uthor of the New York Times bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring
“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.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-10
An imaginative—though not wholly successful—debut in which a beehive is a dystopian society where obedience is essential.Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest order of bee, mute and hulking and ugly. When she cracks out of her gestation cell, she's destined to perform only one role in the hive. But high priestess Sister Sage senses something different about Flora: She can speak and reason, and Sister Sage sees a use for her mutation, reminding others that "Variation is not the same as Deformity." Flora is brought to the nursery to tend the larvae; in another variation from the norm, royal jelly pours from her mouth to feed the babies. Soon she's promoted to Category Two, a nursery for the older grubs, where she again displays a facility beyond her lowly rank. Paull uses Flora's unique abilities to give the reader a working knowledge of the life of a beehive, often to the detriment of character development and drama. Because she has access to the Hive Mind, she's granted access to the Queen and then serves her and reads the hive's history in the sacred chamber. Drones pop up now and then, lazy dandies that the hive sisters service. And spiders make an ominous appearance, trading prophesies of the weather for the sacrifice of aging bees. All would be well with Flora's progression through the ranks except that she has a dangerous secret: She has produced a baby. Though against all the rules—only the Queen can reproduce—her offspring has radical implications for the future of the hive. It's clear that Paull is using the hive as an analogy for a class-bound society, where variation is punished, but this kind of dystopian vision can only thrive when the associations to contemporary circumstances are unambiguous. Much is muddled here, primarily the reader's connection to the heroine, who rarely transcends being a bee.Paull deserves kudos for a daring idea, but the resulting work is burdened by a heavy dose of explication.
—Tracy Chevalier
“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.”
—Margaret Atwood
“[A] gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.”
—Emma Donoghue
“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.”
—Madeline Miller
“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.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Told with rapturously attentive imagination...Few novels create such a singular reading experience.”
—NPR
“Riveting… evocative and beautiful.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Richly imagined”
—Huffington Post
“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.”
Washington Post
“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.”
Austin Chronicle
“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.
Florida Times-Union
“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.”
Library Journal
★ 04/15/2014
"Accept, Obey, and Serve." This is the first commandment within the hive. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, the lowest of all the castes. Yet from the moment she emerges from her cell into a community where variance is destroyed, Flora shows herself different. As her uniqueness proves useful in a time when the hive is at risk, Flora finds herself feeding newborns in the royal nursery, then foraging alone beyond the hive to bring back pollen, and even meeting the Queen, who shows Flora the beauty and sadness that exists in the bees' past and present. Each new job brings Flora more joy, and more questions, for while she knows that obedience and sacrifice are instinctive within the hive mind, her individual traits bring her under the purview of the high priestesses and fertility police, who are striving to maintain the strict hierarchy of their society. When Flora breaks the ultimate law of the hive, challenging the Queen's role as mother to all, her desire to protect her egg will lead the hive toward a future none expected. VERDICT Paull's debut presents the intricate world of the honeybee hive, where devotion and service are sacred, and caste, politics, and power are as present as in any human royal court. A powerful story reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, in which one original and independent thinker can change the course of a whole society. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13; an "Editors' Spring Pick," LJ 2/15/14.]—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062331151
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 38,157
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Laline Paull studied English at Oxford, screenwriting in Los Angeles, and theater in London. She lives in England with her husband, photographer Adrian Peacock, and their three children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2014

    THE BEES by Laline Paull is undoubtedly the most unusual book I

    THE BEES by Laline Paull is undoubtedly the most unusual book I have read in at least a decade (or more). The story does for bees and religion, “group think” and society roles what Animal Farm did for barnyard animals and government.

    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!

    Pros:

    - 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…

    Cons:

    - … 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?
    - BEES.

    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.

    Plot: 10
    Characters: 9
    Setting: 10
    Pacing: 9
    Style: 10

    Grade: 98

    13 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Well, there's been lots of buzz surrounding Laline Paull's debut

    Well, there's been lots of buzz surrounding Laline Paull's debut novel, The Bees. (sorry, couldn't resist!) And that buzz is well-deserved!

    Flora 717 is born a sanitation worker in her hive - the lowest of the low. But Flora 717 is an anomaly - she can speak. One of the Sage Priestesses take notice of her and Flora is moved to the nursery to feed the young. Then against all odds, she becomes a forager, flying outside of the hive to find pollen and nectar to feed her hive. She is brave and kind and tries to serve her queen and live by the hive's dictum -'Accept, Obey and Serve'. But Flora 717 has another ability, one that goes against everything she has been taught from the moment she was born. And it is this instinct that now changes not just Flora's life, but that of the Queen and her hive.

    Now, you might be saying to yourself - really? Bees? Trust me - you'll quickly become immersed in the life of the hive and truly invested in the character of Flora 717. And as you read or listen, you get caught up in her hopes and aspirations, in the struggles of her and her kin and in the day to day life of the community and the hive's struggle to survive. For there are predators. Humans make a brief appearance in the first and last chapters, reminding us of the fragility of nature and the harm our chemicals wreak.

    The details of the hive and of the lives of bees were both informative and fascinating. Did you know that "It takes twelve bees their entire lives to gather enough nectar to make one teaspoon of honey?"

    The architectural structure of the hive was quite detailed and vividly drawn.

    From the author: "I realized that the most astonishing creatures and events are happening everywhere - it’s just a question of scale whether we notice them or not." Paull's novel has definitely made me stop and take notice when I see bees busily buzzing in my flowerbeds, then flying away. Makes you wonder....

    I chose to listen to The Bees. Orlagh Cassidy was the reader. She is a favourite narrator of mine, but I am very used to listening to her reading thriller and action books. I wondered how she would handle a distinctly different piece of work. The answer is - excellently. Cassidy's voice is unique, with lots of hidden gravel and nuance. She chose a voice for Flora that I both enjoyed and suited the mental image I had created of Flora. Cassidy interpreted the book very well, using tone, speed and inference to bring Paull's prose to life. There are some books I just know I have enjoyed more by listening, rather than reading them. The Bees is one of those.

    The Bees has been aptly described as a combination Watership Down meets The Handmaid's Tale.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    Original & Thought-Provoking

    A different way of life -- but very human in many ways. Always interesting and fast-paced. Who knew that bee society is so complex? Are we humans as regimented but just don't realize it?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    V

    J

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2014

    JUST HOW BIG ARE HUMANS?

    I haven't read the book yet but there were a couple of lenghthy reviews(normally I skip over those when they're that long)but there are only 8 reviews at this time so I read them all.When I read(ORIGINAL AND THOUGHT PROVOKING-MAY14-14)it reminded me of something my ex used to say)FOR ALL WE KNOW WE COULD ALL BE A PIMPLE ON SOMEONE'S ASS.Think about it,not in those terms exactly,it could BEE!!!Maybe we are a little colony with all our little jobs and duties.It would be kinda cool to snuff out the ones that are "different"like the bees do.Get rid of the slackers,the deadbeats and so on and so forth.And no,I'm not stoned!!Not yet anyway!You all have a good one folks. Granny B.(BEE)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    It was ok

    I heard and read so much about this book that I couldn't wait to read it. I don't think it was worth all the hype.

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  • Posted July 1, 2014

    Accept, obey, and serve. This is the mantra of the hive, the law

    Accept, obey, and serve. This is the mantra of the hive, the law for life within. Following this simple rule, everything is done for the benefit of the hive, its sisters, and most importantly, its Queen. Each echelon of the hive hierarchy strives to do her part to be industrious and to promote harmony. Flora 717 belongs to the lowest and most humble kin of her hive and would normally spend her days as a sanitation worker, cleaning up after the other bees. However, Flora is anything but ordinary. She seems to change the hive motto to Except, obey and serve. Through a series of events she discovers her aptitude for various other hive jobs, from nursery worker to forager, and as she grows in knowledge, she realizes startling truths about her life and about the future of the hive. Her discoveries lead her to break the cardinal rule, and the most pressing question is what she should do and whether her actions are feats of loyalty or of treachery to herself and to the Queen. 




    Laline Paull creates a fabulously imaginative and provocative debut novel that resonates with both beauty and horror. Readers see the world and experience life within the hive through the eyes of a worker bee who proves to be extraordinary. Her exceptional rendering of what life as a bee entails causes one to view honeybees in a different light. Borrowing some concepts from Catholicism, she likens the hive experience to a honeybee religion that honors the Queen Mother. The Bees is a thrilling journey through the cycles of a beehive, and through Flora 717 readers experience how one bee’s remarkable life influences and affects those around her. Despite the recognition of individual bees only as members of their kin so that each kin member has the same name, Paull manages to develop several memorable leading characters. Also, while sex is a topic that is discussed in the novel, it is done so for the most part in a thoughtful and non-explicit manner. This story captures the imagination and will have readers holding their breath until the final page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2014

    I highly recommend this book. The writing is wonderful and creat

    I highly recommend this book. The writing is wonderful and creates a beautiful world. Flora was an enjoyable character and you really root for her and want her to win. I loved the imagery. I laughed out loud at a few  moments. I was totally engrossed in the world. I enjoyed the plot. I really loved the book and will definitely buy future books from Laline Paull.

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  • Posted June 10, 2014

    While I believe this book was interesting to create, and it does

    While I believe this book was interesting to create, and it does evoke emotions and thought processes that relate to other living creates that are not necessarily bees, it was so odd and outlandish that I skimmed through half of the book .  I don't think that there was any comparison to the Hunger Games, and does resemble comparisons to societal placement that is portrayed in Animal Farm, it did nothing to make me feel for the hierarchies of the bee.  Some of the paragraph sequences are just gross.  The qualify of writing is superb, however, if you like to read a dark, macabre story.

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    Posted May 13, 2014

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