The history of bees is an interesting and ambitious book that generated a lot of discussion ranging from family relationships and the expectations parents put on their children to the current decline of the bee population and the environmental challenge the world is facing – climate change and plastic pollution.
Back to the book itself – it takes the form of 3 stories: in 1851 William is building a new design of beehive; in 2007 George’s livelihood is threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder and in a dystopian 2098 Tao sets out to find out what has happened to her young son. The linking theme is bees, and through the book we learn a lot about them (I had no ideas hives are transported on a commercial scale to provide pollination services) – on the whole Lunde’s research is worn lightly. The direct links between the 3 strands only come out at the end … and the ending felt abrupt.
We all found the main characters difficult to like … and became particularly frustrated with William … “just get out of bed”!! (even if he was a product of his time). Aside from the bees there was a secondary theme of parental expectation running through the stories – Tao desperate to teach her son in the limited time she has with him so that he will escape the drudgery of her life; George wanting his son to take on the family business and not pursue a writing career; and William desperate to impress his wastrel son whilst overlooking his daughter who is clearly devoted to her father and his interests.
The environmental message was clear, but didn’t overwhelm the story, and it made us think which was surely the author’s intention.