"The Secret Life of Bees"
Reading history and reviews
Finished in 2008I'm currently on a real roll with reading books that I've had sitting around unread for years - this is another one that has been gathering dust since 2004, when I think it was chosen by the book group that I used to go to. I bought the book but never read it (until now), and I never went back to the book group either (but that's another story).
"The Secret Life of Bees" is a sort of coming-of-age story, told by a young girl called Lily living in South Carolina in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, and the upheavals associated with that time quietly form not only the backdrop but also part of the backbone of the story. Lily, who lost her mother in a tragic accident when she was much younger, breaks her black nurse Rosaleen out of jail after the latter has had in a run-in with some racists, and runs away from her abusive father in search of the truth about her mother. By a series of coincidences they end up with a trio of bee-keeping sisters who's own take on Christianity involves a Black Madonna, and over time Lily learns the truth about her mother while also growing up herself.
Thinking about it now, there is a real lightness of touch to the the storytelling in this book and it was a real pleasure to read. It almost has a touch of magical realism about it, and yet in a way it all feels quite plausible. Towards the end of the book it suddenly occurred to me that this could be a book for teenagers, but it is definitely an "adult" read too. Having finally read it, I'm glad I didn't just give it away as I'd thought about doing once or twice. And I also find myself wondering what the book group made of it: there are certainly a many images and themes that linger on after I finished reading.