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August Book Club notes for Sarah Crossan’s ‘here is the beehive’

I had started browsing ‘Here is the Beehive’ in the shop one rainy summer’s afternoon – and before I knew it, I was a third of a way through this wonderful novel by Brighton based Sarah Crossan, who is perhaps better known for her teen writing. This, her first adult novel, tells the story of Ana and her affair with Connor, who happens to be married to Rebecca. The book is written in the first person so everything we learn comes straight from Ana’s viewpoint. It is also written in blank verse which is both very unusual and – to my mind – extremely effectively. The use of verse forces Crossan to be incredibly sparse with her words, evoking feelings and ideas in the gaps and pauses, in what is not said – as well as what is actually on the page. This spareness echoes the grief felt by Ana when she learns that Connor is dead, and her subsequent descent into a form of manic madness – as well as ‘the messiness and muddle of daily living, both work and domestic, and the interaction of these with love, desire and the need for society and entertainment’ (to use John Barber’s words!). This is also reflected in the jumping around in time - moving from present, to past as Ana struggles to cope with her grief and her regrets for all that she has lost.

 

I was so looking forward to discussing this book with the Book Club, and was very disappointed to find that many of them had not really enjoyed it. No-one liked the characters, and we agreed that you probably weren’t meant to. I thought it was quite clever to write a novel in which all the characters are not really likeable. I genuinely gasped when, over a hundred pages into it, we suddenly discover that Ana has children, and I was fascinated at how that knowledge completely changed what I thought about her, particularly as I hadn’t really minded that the male half of the affair had children who we knew about from the start.

 

The blank verse means that this is quite a quick read. Some members of the Book Club felt that writing in blank verse was slightly cheating – ‘didn’t she have enough for a full novel?’, whilst others felt that it made you linger over the words. It was a difficult book to skim read! This ‘slowness’ combined with the sparsity of the words – nothing is wasted – meant that it was a bit like watching an ultra slow car crash (John’s words again): you knew the blue gloves would come back it was just a question of when.

 

The discussion around this book was quite negative, but the scores at the end told a different story coming in with a 6 – despite a couple of 2s and a 4 from those who really hadn’t enjoyed it!

 

This was a short month due to the bank holiday, so many of the Book Club had only read Here is the Beehive. One reader had followed up on last month’s book and read Karen Swan’s Stolen Hours, nothing like the first, and also The Paper Palace which she found disturbing. Another of our bookclubbers had followed up on Sarah Winman’s \Still Life and read A Year of Marvellous Ways which she described as light, happy and whimsical, whilst someone else had discovered Richard Osman who ‘writes like he talks, is a dominant presence and really made me laugh’! American Dirt was another book club recommendation which had been ‘absolutely loved!’. Maggie was reading Donna Leon’s Death at The Fenice. These Venetian murder mysteries are enjoyed by many in the group. Something weird and hilariously funny, for those that like the weird, was Paul Murray’s The Mark and the Void, set in Dublin following the 2011 crash and banking crisis. More taxing, and less in the summer reading vein, was Bookshop Chris who had read The Escape Artist, Jonathan Freedland. This was very well received/reviewed earlier this year. Chris found it harrowing but brilliant, an extraordinary story of how one can move forwards following real trauma (it is a true story from Auschwitz).

 

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Next month we are reading Robert Harris’s Act of Oblivion – a taste of historical fiction for us all, from a master storyteller!  Monday 25 September, 6.30pm.

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