Burial – Neil Cross

I am a little ashamed to say that this is the first Neil Cross book that I have read. I am a massive fan of Luther and was really pleased to discover that the series also had a series of three tie-in novels.

Why this book?

Neil Cross has written nine books in total and for most, it would make sense either to start at the beginning or with one of the Luther novels. I, however, chose to read one of his stand-alone novels to get a better idea of his writing style.

I love it when books are combined with other media. If you’ve checked out my Instagram you’ll see that I do love a good multimedia tie-in. From Terry Pratchett, via Harry Potter all the way to The Rivers of London series, if there are different media versions or tie-ins in different media’s then I’m there. Give me a good film adaptation, a tv series or an audiobook and I’m there, combine it with a game, graphic novel and display models of characters and I am in love.

This way of supplementing the storylines of Luther with additional tie-in novels is really appealing. So why not choose one of those as my first Neil Cross reading experience? If I’m honest, I didn’t’ want to taint the experience with my love of Luther the TV series. I often find that if you love a character or a series of characters then you can ignore bad writing.

Take J K Rowling as an example, she has done amazingly well and has written a brilliant story which appeals to both adults and children alike, but I genuinely do not feel that the Harry Potter series would have been commissioned on book one and two alone. If she had not submitted the overall story arc for the series, I don’t think book three would have been picked up. I find the writing style in the first book to be pretty basic and actually quite terrible. It was only at book three that I really began to enjoy the reading experience. Book one and two are necessary for setting out the storyline and introducing the characters, but for anyone (over the age of about 14) who enjoys reading, I think these are a necessary chore.

And for that reason, I chose a stand-alone.

The Story

Burial has a very simple storyline

Can your guiltiest secret ever be buried?

Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: the party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman. Only he and Bob, an untrustworthy old acquaintance, know what really happened and they have resolved to keep it that way. But one rainy night, years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news, and old wounds are suddenly reopened, threatening to tear Nathan’s whole world apart. Because Nathan has his own secrets now. Secrets that could destroy everything he has fought to build. And maybe Bob doesn’t realise just how far Nathan will go to protect them…

[Synopsis is taken from the back cover of the book]

The story for Burial is a simple one, girl dies and secrets are kept. It spans a period of about ten years I think and although some of these years are covered with the cursory, years later, you can forgive Neil this as the main events are covered in great detail and within a matter of pages, he is able to paint a realistic picture of the relationships which develop in the years not documented. True to life, it is the mundane which shows the passing of time and the extraordinary events which shape the actions and relationships of the main characters.

Neil manages to make you feel the pain of loss which is felt by the death of this girl as well as the regret and fear of the lead characters.

Note from the author

I wanted to tell a story where things just keep getting worse and worse for the main character. I wanted to write about guilt and ghosts and murder. But mostly, I wanted to entertain people, and frighten them. I wanted to keep them awake until the early hours.

In this respect at least, it turns out that that Burial was pretty successful. My new editor Francesca and I kept a nightmare tally.

[Taken from Neil-cross.com]

Did I find this book scary? At times it was a little spine-chilling yes. I think for me though, reading takes away some of the fear factor, I am in control and I know I can put the book down at any time.

I did, in fact, have one nightmare, but perhaps because I read this book in several sittings over a series of weeks, I was not continuously immersed in the world and the characters lives to the extent that I would have been if I read it all in one or two sittings.

Overall review

I really enjoyed this book and found that putting it down was quite hard. Unlike some though, it was easy to pick up again without having to re-read pages to discover where I had gotten up to. Like many of his other books, I feel this story would translate really well into a TV production. The fact that Neil Cross writes for TV shows in his writing style. The more I read and discover about authors, the more I realise that you can tell those authors whose job revolves around writing and those who do it as a side project or hobby.

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

This is a book about a mid-life crisis.

I may not be a homosexual American man facing turning fifty imminently, but I can still relate to the character of Arthur Less, as I think many of us can. Rather than face the uncomfortable truth that his lover of nine years has chosen to marry another man, Less embarks upon a trip around the world and whilst doing so, faces the prospect of turning fifty alone.

I’m not going to lie, this is where I see myself at 49, failed relationships haunting me, regret at life unlived, wanting to run away from my problems. Hell, that’s what I feel like already some days.

The only redeeming thing about Less is that he is a published author and even he feels as though that isn’t enough. His work on his current novel isn’t going well and really it is probably this, combined with the news of his ex’s wedding which pushes him to run away.

Synopsis

Who says you can’t run away from your problems?

Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward: he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world.

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

Story and structure

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018, this book is very well written. It paints a beautiful picture of each of the cities that Less visits and the people that he meets.

I found the structure of this book to be easy to read. Each chapter covers a different city or a different event in Less’s journey. It was a great book to read in amongst others, the subject matter was different to each of the other books I was reading at the time and the chapter structure made it easy to pick up and put down.

The writing is eloquent and the vocabulary used is most certainly award-winning. I found myself looking for my thesaurus just to feel more intellectual.

Is Less a loveable character? This is a hard question to answer, sometimes I found myself laughing, sometimes I found myself facepalming at the situations he seems to get himself into. And yet, he is lucky.

Less seems to find Love in one form or another in every city he visits. He is loved by his friends and his old flames and dalliances, rarely do you find a character this flawed who seems to land on his feet so often. Sure he has his major setbacks in life, but this just makes him more realistic.

Andrew Sean Greer has written six novels and a plethora of short stories. He has won many awards and Less has won him the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2018.

This makes total sense. Greer is a great writer, one who clearly excels at any subject which he puts his mind to.

The History of Bees – Maja Lunde

The Story

This book is more a book about human relationships much more than it is a story about bees. Past present and future are brought together under the same overarching subject. The three main characters are driven by these creatures in different ways. Bees bring these three characters together with a unity across the ages.

The focus is given to the relationships of the main characters and their offspring, of their relationships with their parents, the relationships with their mentors. A very emotive story which hones in on the human condition at three distinct time periods; past, present and future.

Pace and style

The first half of this book is fairly slow moving, unlike a lot of what I have read recently ‘ History of Bees’ does not have sudden surprising events, it is powered by the emotive narrative and the character’s story rather than a series of high-intensity events.

Each character suffers a life-changing event throughout the duration of the book. When we meet William, it seems as though he has already suffered a life-changing event, one which has driven him to seek refuge in his bed. But as his story arc unfolds, you realise it is not that simple and William still has a lot to give and a lot to learn. You follow him on his ups and downs, experiencing his euphoria and his pain in equal measure as if it were your own.

Next comes Tao, we witness her heart-wrenching tragedy early on in the book and from then on we follow her on her quest to find her son and the truth. Being that Tao’s storyline is set in a fictitious future, it is her who truly and eventually brings all three timelines together as one.

Lastly, George, as flawed as his character seems, his problems appear to be of his own making; but when colony collapse finally takes his hives, you can’t help but feel a little heartbroken along with him. Although he is my least favourite character in the book, you really do empathise and sympathise when disaster strikes.

Lunde’s writing style really helps you to feel the emotions of the characters with them. She creates a deep sense of empathy with the characters. When William’s son ignores him, you feel it, when Tao’s son is out of her reach, you empathise and when George’s son is fearful, you want to comfort him too.

Bee image

Synopsis

From the Inside Flap

***THE NUMBER ONE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER***
‘Fans of Cloud Atlas and Never Let Me Go will love The History of Bees’ Good Housekeeping
‘Dystopian and electric, this book is set to blow minds everywhere’ Stylist
‘Haunting and poignant … an important and wonderful book’ Dave Goulson, bestselling author of Bee Quest

In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees – and to their children and one another – against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.

England, 1851. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive-one that will give both him and his children honour and fame.

The United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition she sets out on a gruelling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful relationships between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

Praise for The History of Bees

Book cover

‘Spectacular and deeply moving. Lunde has elegantly woven together a tale of science and science fiction, dystopia and hope, and the trials of the individual and the strengths of family’ Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author

‘Such is the genius of debut novelist Maja Lunde that her tale of three eras-the long past, the tenuous present and the biologically damned future-is strung on the fragile hope of the survival of bees’ Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

‘As a lover of honeybees and a fan of speculative fiction, I was doubly smitten by The History of Bees. Maja Lunde’s novel is an urgent reminder of how much our survival depends on those remarkable insects. It is also a gripping account of how-despite the cruellest losses-humanity may abide and individual families can heal’ Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest

‘By turns devastating and hopeful, The History of Beesresonates powerfully with our most pressing environmental concerns. Following three separate but interconnected timelines, Lunde shows us the past, the present, and a terrifying future in a riveting story as complex as a honeycomb’ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author

‘Here is a story that is sweeping in scope but intimate in detail’ Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise

‘A brilliant and beautiful novel’ Jan Askelund, Stavanger Aftenblad

‘She does everything right […] She paints on a broad canvas, the topic is highly important and the language is both comprehensive and precise’ Geir Vestad, Hamar Arbeiderblad

‘One can easily understand the buzz …’ Maria Årolilja Rø, Adresseavisa

‘The settings portrayed in the novel are impressively visual and each character is perfectly naturally rooted in his or her own era and environment’ Janneken Øverland, Klassekampen

‘Maja Lunde will reach a big audience with The History of Bees. (…) She has written a novel many will read in one go, and then sit down and think, about life, the world and the future. That is unique and it is very well done’ Annette Orre, littkritikk.no

‘The History of Bees is a fascinating and brilliantly written novel that elegantly moves between the various stories and timelines’ Oddmund Hagen, Dag og Tid

Thoughts

George’s story is set in the present, he operates a farm of beehives. His storyline focuses on the dysfunctional relationship he has with his son.
William’s storyline is set in the past. He is crippled with self-doubt and no amount of research seems to herald the answer to his problem. – someone who I can most certainly relate to, someone who takes to his bed rather than face the failures which life throws at him.
Tao is the future, a desolate future which may well become a reality if we do not take care of the bees. A relationship with her parents which is all too familiar to me. Backbreaking work for a person who does not fit in. Her one solace is her family and the time she spends with them. When this is threatened, she will do everything to get back to the harmony of her family.

Full of historical references, Maja Lunde certainly does her research. History of Bees also includes an education in many other areas including coffee. When I was a kid, my uncle kept bees in his garden, each summer I would don the white beekeeper’s suite (always several sizes too large for me) and head out with him to tend to the hives. I loved it. Learning about the bees, their home and the way they made honey just fascinated me. This book has reignited some of that enthusiasm, so much so, I’ve started looking into owning my own hive, or at the very least a lone bee home.

Lunde has a great way with storytelling. Seamlessly moving from one chapter to another. Her style reminds me of a well thought out mixtape where the theme or rhythm of one song leads perfectly into the next. It flows well, no jitteriness between chapters, which I found surprising considering that the three characters and the three periods in time are so fundamentally different. But are they? Is it just the bees which bring these three characters lives together, or does their scholarliness, their melancholy and their dysfunctional relationships with their family bring more unity than they seem?

Lunde is a Norweigan author. Her earlier work is mainly in the field of young adult and children’s novels, but like all great authors, she spans genres and sub-genres brilliantly.

I love this book! I would recommend it to anyone. I read this book feeling as though I was reading a Nobel or a Man Booker, but without the pretentiousness that I often feel comes with them.