Tag Archives: The Bees

Pod by Laline Paull

I chose this book because it had been longlisted (and now shortlisted) for the Women’s Prize this year. Also I wanted a book to read on the train and this looked good based on my experience of reading The Bees by Laline Paull. I also remembered that my book group had high praise for the earlier book. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Because this is about the oceans, it is also a stark warning to humans about the damage being inflicted upon the seas. However there is a suggestion of optimism based on the adaptability of sea creatures.

Pod

The story is engaging. Life in the oceans is threatened, and the rituals and practices of thousands of years are no longer protection against man-made destruction. It’s a story for our times.

The main characters are very strong. Both are outsiders, one because she does not want to join in the herd activities, and the other because he was raised and trained by the US Navy. Outsiders in fiction are often the rescuers, and between them these two dolphins save the pods.

Laline Paull has an ability to digest and reproduce a great deal of information about the natural world, in this case about two kinds of dolphins, among other ocean creatures. While not ramming her research down your throat, she manages to give the reader confidence that she knows her stuff. The author’s imagination allows us to connect with life in ‘the vast’.

Anthropomorphising can be yukky, but not in this novel. The pressures and challenges of the dolphin pods have parallels in our own world. For example, the movement of people westward that produced the sacking of Rome, and the invasion of ancient Britain by the Angles and Saxons. In much the same way a pod of Spinner dolphins, who know themselves as the Longi, has been chased out of their home within an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The survivors have relocated to another area and now live a decent quiet life but remember their exodus in an annual ritual. A young female spinner, Ea, hears a warning from a humpbacked whale but does not understand it. 

The distant whale boomed again like faraway thunder. Then as his great billows of sound were still travelling across the ocean, he wailed across the top of them win a harsh and searing lament that filled Ea with sadness and rage. It faded away, and the silence that followed had a different quality. It was over. The whale had passed on, leaving Ea with the ache of relief that someone else understood loneliness and pain. (8)

She is a rebel, but honoured within the pod, which values care, sympathy, and other feminine characteristics. The Longi pod do not encourage strong feelings, but they have a way of dealing with them: the Shriving Moil:  

The older adults began it, moving together at the centre. Now with group permission, everyone released their psychic distress, as a tangible burst of energy in the water. Ea had thought she was the only one in pain, but now she felt it coming into her body from her kin. She wanted to flee, at the same instant as she wanted to comfort them. She pressed her fins back against those people who reached theirs out to her, and were now twisting and clicking unselfconsciously. People were confessing terrible forbidden feelings: anger, resentment rage, thoughts of revenge – it came choking out in ragged clicks and cries. (29)

Ea is greatly upset by a meeting with a shoal of Manta Rays, and her fears take her and her mother into dangerous waters. Having inadvertently led her own mother into the jaws of a shark Ea leaves the pod.

She is taken by force into the megapod of 500 bottlenose dolphins, the Tursiops, the same dolphins that usurped her tribe. The dolphins are much bigger than Ea and she is easily captured by a teenage group. She is raped but makes some alliances within the hareem. This pod is large, noisy and the members are controlled through patriarchal bullying and violence. For example, here is the excitement of the hunt with the bottlenose dolphins.

At last the First Harem began to move. Fused into the greater motion and feeling the ocean again, Ea pushed forward alongside Devi [the number one female]. Up ahead was the massive kinetic power of the male alliance and she let it run through her whole body. She had never experienced this in the Longi pod, but here the male energy was so much stronger. Devi glanced across at her and speeded up. Keeping pace, Ea did not even notice. She was focused on the unfamiliar choreography of the Tursiops on the hunt. Her own peopled had never mentioned it and Ea could not help admiring how they constantly shifted into different patterns, a well-practiced team. (173)

Google, a bottlenose dolphin trained to be used by the US navy, escapes from a mission and wanders alone until he is put on a path to meet the megapod by the same whale as issued the warning to Ea. He meets and falls for Ea, but their time together is too short.

Humans are behind destruction of the ocean: plastic waste floats and creates a barrier in the ocean and interrupts the routes of animals and the spawning season; and there are some fishing fleets that hoover up the dolphins. Some of the bottlenose dolphins are able to escape thanks to Google and Ea and to join the survivors of the Longi to find the whale and his group of survivors. We know this because the prologue hinted at survival.

This is a tale of families, loyalty, survival, sacrifice, and the things that support survival and those that harm the community.

Laline Paull

Laline Paull was born in England. Her parents were first-generation Indian immigrants. She studied English at Oxford University, screenwriting in Los Angeles, and theatre in London. She has had two plays performed at the Royal National Theatre, where she is currently adapting her first novel, The Bees. She is a member of BAFTA and the Writers’ Guild of America. She lives in the English countryside with her family. [From the Women’s Prize for Fiction website]

The Bees was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Pod by Laline Paull, published in 2022 by Corsair. Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023. 261pp. 

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Missing Books

You run your fingers along the spines of your shelf where you book should be and find – the book has gone. It’s a gone book. Somewhere there is a library of lost books, perhaps in the same street as the laundrette for single socks; opposite the museum of lost contact lenses; and the newspaper reporting on people who lost their hearts.

All those books, where are all those books? How have they come to be gone?

Not on the shelves

221 Well of LThe Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. Writing a post about banned books I went to my shelves of novels, to look for the green spine of my copy of the Virago classic. I read the book I am sure in the ‘70s. But it was missing, although a friend was able to lay her hands on her copy when I mentioned this a few days later. Perhaps I only borrowed it. It’s a book I should have on my shelves, a classic. What else is not on my shelves?

Gone from the library

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee. I wanted to read this book because of the title. I like the idea of a novel about a novelist, and especially of one as revolutionary as Virginia Woolf. I reserved it from my local branch of the county library. A week later I received this email.

Dear Ms Lodge,

I’m sorry but the copy of

Gee, M Virginia Woolf in Manhattan

Which you requested is missing. As this is the only copy on the catalogue I have had to delete your request.

Unforgiveable, a library user in Devon has failed to return the service’s only copy of Virginia Woolf in Manhattan. Check your shelves Devon readers!

Not in the shops

24 Sussex, Ottawa

24 Sussex, Ottawa

What are you Reading Mr Harper? by Yann Martel. I posted about this book a couple of weeks ago. I planned the post after reading of the fall of Mr Harper and his Conservative government in the Canadian General Election. But the book was not available from my usual sources. In the end I went to the subsidiaries of a well-known on-line company that sell second hand books. My copy arrived from Switzerland. An international affair. And what has happened to all the books that Yann Martel sent Mr Harper, more than a hundred of them. Have they gone back to Calgary with Mr Harper? Or are they in cardboard boxes in the cellars of 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa?

Lent but not returned.

And then there is the category of books that go missing because they were lent to a person posing as a friend who never returned them. Is that what happened to The Well of Loneliness? Annecdotalist mused on this topic on her blog in November in a post called Never let me go: the dilemma of lending books. She lent Never Let Me Go and, yes, it has not returned. She writes movingly about the betrayal of trust, the damage to a relationship if the book is not returned. And has a word or two for those people who don’t ever buy books.

Not exactly given away

193 Bees coverThe Bees by Laline Paull. This is a new category, discovered when my book group was deciding what to read in 2016. My daughter revealed that she had my copy and overheard to say ‘it’s mine now.’ Not so much given away or lent as adopted, taken over. I need to check her shelves of course.

 

 

About missing

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. In this book it is people that are missing, a sister and a friend. And Maud is losing some of her marbles as dementia progresses. It’s a very successful debut novel, that treats an older woman with great respect. I reviewed it in the series on older women in fiction on this blog.

Not yet written

In my half century of writing I have imagined so many novels and written so few. I began a few. There was the as-yet-untitled saga of a large family who lived in a lighthouse in Brittany. And there was the adult feminist novel featuring Megan and her struggles in a life of discrimination against women. And not even started, the memoirs of a book obsessed reader.

Not yet finished

And then there is the novel I have drafted, but need to produce a second draft. And while I am not revising the first draft I am writing, with two others, a book on ageing. This book is scheduled to go to the publisher in March and then I can return to the novel.

With all these missing books, it’s fortunate that I have a tbr pile that extends for two feet along my shelves and continues as a file of scraps of paper waiting to be obtained from the shops or the library (or perhaps by underhand methods). On with the reading.

Explore the wonderful website: Library of Lost Books

Any books gone missing in your life?

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Four Good Reads

Here are some recommended reads from the last six months. There are so many books around at the moment that deserve to be read I’ve put together four for today’s post (and will recommend another four very soon).

  1. All my Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

193 ALl my puny cover This is a novel that holds you tight, makes sure you don’t escape. Look, it says, look! What do you do when someone you love really, really wants to end her life? Someone like your sister? Do you help her?

Elfreda is a famous pianist and the sister of Yolande, the narrator. She tells us how Elfreda wants to commit suicide, and the novel begins as she is hospitalised after her most recent attempt. We find out that their father also found death in front of a train. The novel concerns the attempts by Yolande and other close to Elf, to keep her alive. But then Yolande has to consider the request ‘to take me to Switzerland’, to Dignitas, because she sees her sister’s unhappiness.

Miriam Toews is a Canadian novelist, who draws from her Menonite background. She knows how to create sparky characters, with lives full of the stuff of living. And she knows how to portray sisters and adult relationships. Yolande is sparky and flawed. The emotional content of the novel is crafted so that the reader cares what happens to both sisters, and yet the material never becomes mawkish. It’s very moving and very challenging.

The novel explores a person’s right to die; whether another person should help them; the pain of knowing your loved one wants to die; the pain when loved ones do die; and how families support each other. I couldn’t help comparing this book to Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in which Will’s disability made the questions less tricky than for Efl, the successful concert pianist and in which the theme of assisted suicide notched up the tension rather than encouraging reflection on the dilemmas of assisted suicide.

Miriam Toews (2014) All my Puny Sorrows, published by faber 321 pp

  1. The Bees by Laline Paull

193 Bees coverThis novel was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015. It is certainly a sustained tour de force. The main character, Flora 717, is a bee and the action of this novel takes place in a hive.

Laline Paull has done her research, and the mysterious and rather alien functions of the hive, in particular its hierarchies and the brutal way in which these hierarchies are enforced, is reimagined in a story of the triumph of the humble bee. It is the author’s challenge to present a great deal of close observation of bee behaviour in a convincing way: how bees communicate, the function of smell in their lives, group communication through humming, dancing and chemical means. The world of bees is sustained to the end.

Flora attracts attention by being a little different at birth. She is taken to the nursery, and later to the Queen. Fiercely loyal to the Queen – as are all bees – she learns the geography and culture of the hive as she takes on the roles of nurse, sanitation worker, forager and finally a definitive role in the hives future after it disintegrates through internal conflict.

The Bees by Laline Paull (2014), published by 4th Estate 344 pp

  1. The Dig by Cynan Jones

193 Dig coverThis novel featured as a book of the year for several people in Guardian Review of 2014. I mentioned it in brief post because one character, an older woman, seemed to me to be so beautifully portrayed, albeit very briefly. You can find my comments about her here. There is more to this novel than that one character, of course.

The dig refers to digging badgers out of their setts, and so the novel is about cruelty and loss. The big man is a loner, who hunts badgers for sport, but must evade the law to do so. The practice seems rooted in the traditions of the countryside, in this case in Wales. It may be traditional but the badger dig is gruesome, and the baiting that follows worse. Dennis is also a loner, a sheep farmer grieving for his wife, recently killed by the kick of a horse. The paths of the two men cross with tragic consequences.

The story unfolds in the Welsh countryside, and Cynan Jones has a great feel for place, evoked especially through sound, but also through the taciturn communications of the people in the rural communities, and of the skill and knowledge that both men develop of their crafts. The two main characters, and the others, such as the boy who goes on a dig, and Dennis’s mother, all are evoked through a sparse but powerful style. It’s short, brutal and difficult to read.

The Dig by Cynan Jones (2014), published by Granta 156 pp

  1. This Boy by Alan Johnson

193 This Boy coverOur book group decided to read this autobiography. We enjoyed it, partly because Johnson has such respect for women, and especially for his mother and sister. He was brought up by them in post-war London slums, where poverty was shockingly present. Deserted by his father, much of his story details the family’s struggle with money, ill-health and the expectations of their neighbours. Told with humour as well as shocking detail, we read because we know our boy came good.

It’s as much a social history, including a reminder of the role of popular music in a boy’s life in the late 50s and early 60s. (This Boy is the title of a Beatles song). It is written with passion, humour and generosity.

This Boy by Alan Johnson (2013), published by Corgi Books 284pp

 

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Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction Shortlist 2015

BWPFF 2015 logoAnnounced on Monday 13th April 2015, here is the shortlist for the Baileys Prize.

  • Rachel Cusk: Outline
  • Laline Paull: The Bees
  • Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone
  • Ali Smith: How to be Both
  • Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
  • Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

160 How to be bothThe winner will be announced on Wednesday 3rd June.

These books were on the longlist:

  • Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart
  • Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?
  • Xiaolu Guo: I Am China
  • Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief
  • Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing
  • Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven
  • Grace McCleen: The Offering
  • Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star
  • Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
  • Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights
  • Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home
  • Sara Taylor: The Shore
  • Jemma Wayne: After Before
  • PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

151 E missiing cover 3

And here’s the shadow shortlist from The Writes of Women blog:

  • Samantha Harvey    Dear Thief
  • Sandra Newman      Ice Cream Star
  • Ali Smith                    How to be Both
  • Sara Taylor                The Shore
  • Anne Tyler                A Spool of Blue Thread
  • Sarah Waters           The Paying Guests

 

Never mind the winner, here’s lots of lovely reading for us all!

 

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