Bees are quite complicated little creatures and most of us know very little about them. Those that practice apiculture are becoming worth their weight in gold (or bees). We've been collecting their honey for over 15,000 years and we are just beginning to understand just how important to our survival those little insects are. Sadly this new understanding is partly as a result of all the extra research due to the fact that so many Bee colonies are dying out (an occurrence known as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN Bee's are responsible for pollinating around $200 billion worth of crops globally. 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. But thats just the tip of the iceberg, without the plants those animals that eat such plants would die out too. Yes we could survive such an event, after all Wheat, Barley, Rice and Corn are all pollinated by the wind. Butterflies also do their bit for plant pollination too. It would however be a much changed world and many of the things we take for granted now wouldn't be around.
So Laline Paull's novel The Bee's could be more important than we know in educating ourselves and raising awareness a little about Bees.
It describes the life of an unusual worker Bee called Flora 717 living in a colony and not quite fitting into the strict caste system employed. She manages a feat few others have ever dared, transcending the role she was born to carry out. Following her right from her birth the book describes in striking detail the world of Bee life and the workings of a colony. It touches on the effect the modern human world has on Bee life such as encroaching urbanism and pesticides. It also describes effectively how each bee is required to strictly adhere to their cast and role, carrying out their duty is the whole life for a Bee. Life is uncompromising and brutal, death on a large scale commonplace and any deviance from the expected norm is dealt with harshly.
Of course there are many parallels to our own macro-cosmic existence, our expectations to fit into society and adhere to the rules, often to carry out duty for the greater good and the thinly veiled lie that is "freedom". There are also themes of motherhood along with our response to cultural and social norms.
This exploration of a Bee's existence is imaginative and immersive while also suitably alien to our own life. This is offset a little by a certain about of anthropomorphism such a the Bee's making bread and using tools but by and large this helps the reader relate to and understand more about this alien world.
To enjoy this book you need to approach it with an open mind. It's different to most other books you will read, the anthropomorphism is constrained more than most and the messages subtle and varied. The Bees is different, clever, a unique view into the life of a Bee.
Written on Saturday 28th March 2015 by Antony Jones.
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