Publisher: Walker Books
Release Date: 3rd March 2016
Edition: US proof, review copy
This powerful debut novel delicately blurs the line between truth and fiction as Carol unravels the fantastical stories of her mentally ill grandfather.
When she and her family move to his deserted ranch in order to transfer him to a care home, Carol struggles to cope with the suffocating heat and the effects of her grandfather’s dementia. Bees seems to be following her around, but the drought means this is impossible. She must be imagining things. Yet when her grandfather chooses her as the subject for his stories – tales of a magical healing tree, a lake, and the grandmother she never knew – Carol sees glimmers of something special in what her parents dismiss as Serge’s madness. As she rethinks her roots and what she thought she knew about her family, Carol comes to the realisation that Serge’s past is quickly catching up with her present.
I’ve heard wonderful things about Lindsay Eagar’s debut and although I had a few issues, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Within pages of starting Hour of the Bees I was captured by the intensity of the writing. I immediately felt the cloying heat, the danger and the life-or-death feeling of the New Mexico desert and that never lets up. It does lessen a little as the summer skips along pretty fast – maybe a bit too fast? I wanted more of the long, lingering summer days reflecting the desert drought, especially as Carol says how much the summer is dragging for her.
Speaking of dragging, I wasn’t a huge fan of Serge’s story of Sergio and Rosa that ran throughout the main novel. I find that flashbacks/stories are a bit hit and miss for me and these ones were just a bit too long as I was genuinely invested in Carol’s immediate story. Being confronted with her ancestral home and the grandfather she’s never met before forces Carol to confront her heritage. She’s Mexican American, but she focuses on the American side. Serge’s stories about his life, the ranch and their history makes Carol think differently about herself and her origins which I really loved.
The relationships throughout Hour of the Bees are so strong and emotive. The painful, tense connection between Carol and her half-sister, Alta; the new, tentative one between Carol and Serge; and the growing distance between Carol and her dad as she learns about his past and relationship with Serge. It’s knotty and fascinating and chock-full of emotion. I even cried at the end…
Hour of the Bees is a gorgeously written magical realism novel about family, identity and embracing your heritage.