There was a lot of buzz surrounding this book (sorry, couldn’t resist) when it first came out, and I put on the TBR pile straight away. It was also read for the Riffle Books October’s book club. And that cover! This is a book I was glad to have purchased – I kept touching and running my fingers over the front cover as I was reading. The words for The History of Bees is elevated and covered in pollen, the bee is also elevated and the sprinklings of pollen everywhere can be felt. Very cool cover!!
The History of the Bees has three separate storylines: William (England, 1852), George (United States, 2007) and Tao (China, 2098). The storylines remain separate until the very end, and their work, research, livelihood all deal with bees. In the beginning, Tao’s storyline is very interesting. She must work long, hard hours every day to hand-pollinate the trees, since there are no bees left to provide fruit and flowers, etc. Children are taken from the home at the age of 8 to start this work. However, and this is where I agree with Rebecca’s review on Goodreads about Tao’s narrative dragging down of the story. As her narrative moves forward, it feels as though you are reading from a textbook. There is a lot of dry “tell” and it does not blend well into her story.
And I also agree with Jennifer’s review on Goodreads about this feeling of detachment and disconnect from the story. Disconnect and detachment are good descriptions for how I felt – because there were times where I was actually quite bored. There’s quite a few dry parts so that feeling of detachment happened often for me.
I would also say this is “dystopia-lite”. I’m not a regular reader or fan of dystopia, but Tao’s storyline is fairly “lite” in that sense anyway. I also struggled a little with some credibility in her parts, if that is the correct term to use – things that just wouldn’t really, to me anyway, seem like it would be available or part of their recent past in 2098 to jive right – like the mentions of telephone receivers and wall connections, and having to plug a phone into the wall. Remember that Tao’s parts are taking place in China 2098 so it just wasn’t ringing true for me. ?
The three separate storylines do not connect at all until the very end. When those connections started coming together is when this really improved and had me turning the pages, glued to it, but it comes too late and for most of it I felt very detached and bored to be honest. My favourite storyline would be George’s because of the family dynamics and his life’s work with the bees and his great and overwhelming loss when total colony collapse happens. It best held me for this “thought-provoking tale that is just as much about the powerful bonds between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.” (taken from back jacket flap) Overall, it’s a good read, but not a stand out one for me.