Hour of the Bees
Reviewed by Trevor Agnew
Hour of the Bees both surprised and delighted me.
The novel begins unpromisingly. Carol is a twelve year girl who has to help her family shift her ailing grandfather from his drought-stricken New Mexico ranch into assisted care. Not another story of youthful angst meeting senile dementia? Fortunately Hour of the Bees is no such thing. From the moment Carol meets Grandpa Serge, she is challenged and infuriated by him.
“Why do you spit on your roots,” he asks. Peer pressure has turned Carolina into Carol.
“I don’t want to be Mexican. Or American. Or Mexican-American, or Caro-leeen-a,” she cries.
Carol only wants to escape this run-down ranch, where “drought dries everything to bones.” As she and her family work through what should have been her summer holiday to clear the house, Carol is also puzzled by her father’s silence about his own youth there. Then Serge’s stories captivate her. Weaving together a mythical version of the lives of their ancestors, Serge creates a wonderful word-picture of a world beyond time, a Brigadoon-like village where the healing powers of a flowering tree, a lake and a swarm of bees offer a kind of immortality.
Just as Carol can see both the beauty and the harsh realities of the south-west desert, she also finds comfort and understanding in Serge’s poignant stories. But are Serge’s tales just fiction? With Serge locked away and sedated, Carol has to make important decisions but it’s not easy for a young girl to act alone, especially when she keeps seeing bees that nobody else notices. Carol’s response brings an unexpected and exciting conclusion, full of the power of myth.
Lindsay Eagar has skilfully sketched in a whole family of interesting characters, each with their own personality and all recognisably real. (Infuriating teenager Alta deserves her own novel.) Best of all, this is Lindsay Eagar’s first novel. So we have more to look forward to.
3 Mar 2016
This review appeared in a Fairfax NZ publication in March 2016.