My Little Eye – Stephanie Marland

My Little Eye is a very unique take on the classic murder mystery. A story told technically from two different points of view but with the added bonus of an online true crime group adding their perspective.

It is the story told by Dominic the Detective working for the police department, and Clementine, the PHD student who joins an amateur online detective group and attempts to solve a series of murders carried out by ‘The Lover’, a sadistic serial killer who poses his victims after he murders them.

Blurb

A rocket-paced, dark thriller for fans of Mark Billingham, Sharon Bolton and Luther. Can a group of true crime addicts take on the police to catch a serial killer?

Kiss the Girls – A young woman is found dead in her bedroom surrounded by rose petals- the latest victim of ‘The Lover’. Struggling under the weight of an internal investigation, DI Dominic Bell is no close to discovering the identity of the killer and time is running out.

And make them die – As the murders escalate, Clementine Starke joins an online true crime group determined to take justice in their own hands – to catch the killer before the police. hiding a dark secret, she takes greater risks to find new evidence and infiltrate the group.

As Starke and Bell get closer to cracking the case, neither of them realise they are being watched. the killer is close to them than they think, and he has his next victim – Clementine – firmly in his sights.

Thoughts about the blurb

Personally, I think that this blurb gives too much away. In my opinion, and it is just an opinion, a blurb should give you a set up for the story and perhaps a few tantalising nuggets of information to encourage you to read past the first chapter, which in most books would be introducing characters and setting the scene.

Often, if I am struggling to get into a book after the first chapter, I’ll skip a few pages to read on, if I then feel I’ve missed anything, I’ll double back to catch up.

NONE of this was necessary for My Little Eye.

The book itself

The book begins with a prologue. Written in the voice of one of ‘The Lovers’ victims, this is essentially a prologue to the kill. It sets the tension level really well and leaves you wanting much much more.

Monday – the first chapter is Clementine and it begins as so:

“They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke up I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true.”

Already I was hooked.

Chapter 1 is just over a page long, chapter two is just over two pages long. We continue in this pattern until the introduction of the online crime group and divert back to this pattern when small titbits of information need to be added to the story.

One thing that Stephanie Marland is very good at in her books, is pacing. She knows just when to speed things up with a short chapter to introduce more evidence and just when to include more characters with more viewpoints and thought-provoking clues.

My Little Eye is a great book. It follows a very familiar path of serial killers and police investigations, but where it differs from your average crime thriller or police procedural is with the introduction of this online true crime group and their lines of investigation. Often ahead of the police, they pool their expertise, knowledge and on some occasions the fact that they are not tied by rules and procedures, to solve the case.

Do they solve the case before the police? That would be telling.

Stephanie Marland

I have been a fan of Stephanie Marland for a few years now. All be it, under her pseudonym of Stephanie Broadribb, or more accurately as her blogging name ‘Crime Thriller Girl’.

Taken from the introduction on her website:

Crime Thriller Girl (aka Steph Broadribb aka Stephanie Marland) leads a double life …

I started out as a corporate suit by day and a crime fiction blogger – Crime Thriller Girl (hence the name of my blog) by night. Now I’m a thriller writer, writing as Steph Broadribb and Stephanie Marland. I’m an avid reader of all things crime thriller and I love to connect with people who share the same passion for books.

I first discovered her whilst looking for bloggers who wrote about one of my favourite areas, crime fiction. She is one of the best. But not only does she write about crime and is friends with some of the biggest crime writers in the industry, she also writes crime. When I discovered that she wrote as Stephanie Broadribb, I downloaded Deep Down Dead and began to read.

Blurb for Deep Down Dead

“Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows …”

The Lori Anderson series is set in Florida and at first, I found it hard to reconcile a UK crime writer who sets their work in the USA. Why I found this so hard, I’m not really sure, I love Lee Child’s work and all of his work is set in the USA, in the US military in fact, and he was born in Coventry UK.

Once I got past the first few chapters though, I was hooked. The Lori Anderson series is fast-paced action from the get-go. Information is introduced into the story in much the same way that a grenade is introduced into a room.

This speed makes it ideal reading for commuting. When you get off that train, even if you have only travelled a mere couple of stations, you feel as though you have read one hell of a lot of the story.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to attend an event at a local literary festival in which Stephanie Marland/Broadribb and her fellow author, Isabel Ashdown did a talk on ‘How to get published’. It was one of those talks which was designed to encourage you, the writer, to progress your work and your career in the right way, not just to dither around unsure where to go for help. What I took away , however, was just how much I wanted to read Stephanie’s new book ‘My Little Eye’.

Both authors read a passage from their newest books and I decided then and there to purchase both. Luckily there was a table manned by the local independent book shop, Barnards Books there selling copies and I was lucky enough to get them both signed.

I am actually quite ashamed that it has taken me this long to get around to reading and in fact finishing this book. The pace meant that I should have managed it within a week of the talk. Once I did pick it up and begin to read properly, it really did only take me a week.

It is a great story, gruesome in parts, but not unnecessarily so. I love the characters, especially Clementine, who Stephanie herself admits to rewriting in full on the second draft. The use of the online crime group to add intrigue and another dimension which really adds depth to the story. The lead characters, as well as the supporting characters, are fully developed and most have their own back story which gives reason and justification for their actions.

**** Potential spoiler ahead ***

Continue reading My Little Eye – Stephanie Marland

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

I’ve been seeing this book around for a while now and decided it was time to read it. Having been super busy with work, I knew I’d end up buying it and not reading it for months. Black Friday came around and Audible had a sale on some of the year’s bestsellers, a mere £2.50 per audiobook! Sold!

I downloaded it and spent just over a week listening to it on my way to and from work. Best £2.50 I’ve spent in ages. I would most certainly recommend this.

WINNER OF THE BOOKS ARE MY BAG NOVEL AWARD 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE SPECSAVERS NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2018

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleYou can buy a signed copy of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcasle by Stuart Turton at Forbidden Planet. 

The problem with an audiobook

Audiobooks can be difficult though, I have a real fondness for a good audiobook read by a good narrator. Unfortunately, the narrator can add or take away so much from the story that they can really make or break it.

Having listened to some audiobooks which I’ve given up on because of the narrator alone, I was pleased by the narrator on this one; Jot Davies has a versatile voice, smooth and with a lot of dexterity. Read in the first person the narrator is integral to the story working.

Since finishing the audiobook I have read some reviews; although overall they are good, there are a few people who do not like the narrator. This is a very personal thing I believe. I found Jot Davies to be a delightful narrator who added to the story for me. Sadly, not everyone felt the same way.

The Story

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a thought-provoking and intriguing story. It is one of the first truly existential pieces of literature that I’ve ‘read’, and enjoyed, in quite some time.

I can’t help but imagine what Stuart Turton’s office must have looked like whilst he was writing this book. The story is not limited to seven different timelines, there are also several other characters whose timelines are relevant and integral to the story, and both the ‘reader’ and Aiden’s ability to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder.

For me, I was totally enthralled by this story,  I would happily have read/listened to this story all in one day, I was excited to get to the next host to find out the other perspectives of the timeline, to see if I could solve the murder before Aiden did.

I failed!

Although there were some aspects of the mystery that I did solve, the main murderer was a total surprise. And my surprise was not limited just to the murder. This story contains many twists and turns relating to the identity of Aiden and his counterparts as well as the murder of Evelyn.

I found each of the characters to have depth and Stuart certainly explored many areas of the suspect’s lives, aspects which had a true impact on their place in this mystery.

I have seen this story compared to a cross between an Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap, all of which seem accurate to me. It is well written, contains twists and turns and I would certainly recommend this book in both audible and written form to anyone who likes a good mystery and a plot twist.

Setting

I do not know when or where this book is set.

It has been compared to the Great Gatsby and I agree. Blackheath is a stately home out in the countryside. There are no real indications of which time period this story is set though, the only technology which is mentioned is an ancient record player and a car which is a little temperamental. No other technology, but in a place like Blackheath, this doesn’t actually narrow it down at all. Often people aim to get away from themselves when they stay in a place like Blackheath. I’d narrow it down to somewhere between the 1920s and 1980s.

The characters all have very different accents, but as it is written and read in the first person and accents aren’t really relevant to the plot, there is no real indication as to the location of Blackheath, it could be the UK, it could be the USA, the only place I know it isn’t based in, is Paris, as that is the only place specifically mentioned in the book.

This lack of location actually only adds to the mystery which surrounds the story and the mystery of Blackheath.

Synopsis

“It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. but Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to bread this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…”

Boy Under Water

Story

This book was described to me as “A beautiful story” and I have to say, the bookseller was correct, it is indeed beautiful.

Boy Under Water is described as “A HEARTBREAKING, HEART-WARMING story about FAMILY, FRIENDS and SECRETS, Boy Underwater will probably make you CRY – and will definitely make you LAUGH.” which is a pretty accurate description as it goes. Seeing the world through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy really does give the reader a different perspective unless of course, you are a nine-year-old boy, in which case I feel you will be able to relate.

This is a book about a nine-year-old boy, written in a style which would make it easy for a nine-year-old boy to understand, but in language that an adult will also appreciate. It reminds me of being read to as a child. As I read through this story, I find myself reading in the voice of a nine-year-old boy, I make up voices for each of the characters in fact. This is not something I do consciously but something which I become aware of as I read through.

Style

One of the things I love about this book is its ability to break the boundaries of a traditional book. There are whole pages which feature words, having fun. in fact, there is a whole chapter made up of one picture and 7 words. This is really the only giveaway, except for the size of the text, which tells you it is a book aimed at children.

I used to run the book section in an out of town W H Smith store and one tip my boss gave me was this; “If you can’t tell if it’s an adult or a kids book from the title, front cover or subject matter, then go by the size of the text”. This is not, of course, an exact science, but it is a good approximation, usually, one of the other aspects will give you a better idea but often it is a combination of several aspects.

My friend has an eight-year-old and I cannot wait for him to read this book, it is the kind of book which will be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Illustrations

Boy Under Water is illustrated by Benji Davies, an illustrator who has worked on numerous children’s books over the past ten years. His additions to the book are great and really add to the atmosphere and the storyline. I’d love to tell you more, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. So instead, here is a picture from one of the other books Benji has written and illustrated…

Grandad's Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam Baron

Adam Baron is a successful adult novelist, he has six adult novels under his belt and teaches a successful MA in creative writing.

Adam Baron… has a light touch and brings humour to difficult subjects such as mental health. So, why not come in? The water’s lovely.

The Times – on Boy Underwater (edited quote to avoid spoilers)

I hadn’t even heard of Adam Baron before finding this book in my local Waterstones bookshop, but I am now most certainly going to be on the lookout for more of his work. His writing style is one which is inspiring, both pretty and ugly when the need arises and easy to read for both children and adults. This book is a children’s book and he most certainly does not talk down to them or shy away.

Characters

Cymberline Igloo

Yes, that is his name, something which is happy to point out and explain very early on in the book. Cymberline is the main character and the book is told from his point of view. He is competitive, friendly, nervous, thoughtful and good at sports, what more could you ask for from a nine-year-old hero. I found that I warmed to Cymberline very quickly, he is a loveable character and due to his age, you tend to overlook his flaws and his moments of nine-year-old annoyance, as you are seeing them from his point of view, you are seeing the other side to the tantrum.

Veronique Chang

Every school, every class has a girl like Veronique. A girl or boy who is years above the rest in educational development, someone who is so intelligent that they struggle to mix with their peers. Where it is possibly unlikely that a nine-year-old would understand stocks and shares to the level which Veronique does, she is portrayed very well by Baron. A girl whose intelligence is well beyond her years, but who has not learnt enough social graces to apply to adults who find her threatening.

Lance

Lance struggles with his name and his namesake’s reputation. A child of divorce, it is clear that this kid has learnt to bend the situation to his advantage, and fair play to him. I found that I felt sorry for Lance more than perhaps I should have.

Billy Lee

The initial villain of the piece, your classic bully. But even Billy Lee has depth. Seeing things from a nine-year-olds perspective can really help you to see how horrible children can be. As an adult, the introduction and growth of Billy Lee’s character reminds us all that there is always more going on than meets the eye and no one really knows what another person is going through.

Adults

I won’t focus too heavily on the adults here. They, of course, make up a large part of the cast of this book and they push the story on. Without the adults, there would be no story, but they are also the ones which cause all the problems in Cymbeline’s eyes. The semi-alcoholic aunt, one workaholic uncle, one flakey uncle, a mother who is keeping secrets and a dead father, not to mention the teachers and other parents, Cymberline really struggles to get himself heard.

Review

Having just finished this book today, I would totally recommend. It has twists and turns and gives a child’s perspective of some scenario’s which adults would try to hide from children, and as the story shows, children know more about what is going on that their parents suspect. Never underestimate a child when they get curious.

This is a well-written story from a point of view I’ve not very often read. It is a beautiful story and one which both children and adults will enjoy.

An evening with Mark Billingham & Martyn Waites

A mild Tuesday night in October and I join about 80 people streaming into the Compass Theatre to listen to Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites talk about their new books.

This talk was one of the author events from this year’s Hillingdon Culture Bites festival.
I was, of course, busy listening to these two talk, but I did manage to make a few notes. So below is a stripped down, paraphrased and heavily abridged version of my evening with Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites.

 

Martyn Waites discusses his new book

I’d describe it as Crime noir meets the wicker man. It is, like me,  based in Cornwall. It is broadly speaking, about a remote community dying as result of Brexit and what they, as a community, would be willing to do to save themselves. It is based on a true story and I was inspired by something I once said about my recent move.  “Living in Cornwall makes me feel like I’m in witness protection”
This book is the first of a new series.

Mark Billingham discusses his new book

Crime readers do not like it when they harm animals. This book has lots of harm to animals. No actual descriptions of violence, but it is based on the Croydon cat killer. I have had numerous conversations with the police force working on this case and it is absolute nonsense that it is foxes killing these cats.
One far-out theory that they had during the investigation was that the killings were being carried out by a crazed ornithologist.  It’s always the peculiar little stories, not big headlines that inspire crime writers.

Speaking about writing

Martyn Waites – Ideas are not the hard bit. The trick is finding out which ones work.
Mark Billingham – I usually start with an opening scene, a scene which leaves me and the detective with lots more questions. The first chapter should leave you, the reader, asking questions. You need the first chapter to hook a reader.

Neither Mark nor Martyn are big planners now. Martyn says that he used to be meticulous in his planning, with whiteboards and sticky notes all over the place. But it’s more fun not to plan. Often times they will have their editors asking “What happens next?” or “What happens to such and such character?” and the answer is always “I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know yet.”

Writing as a job.

Mark Billingham – I do actually have a whiteboard in my office, do you know what it says?

Empty white boardGet dressed

Buy cheese

Write novel

 

 

It is as simple as that. No detailed plans of who my characters are or where the story is heading.

The reality is that writing is a job. Not a 9-5 job, but a job just like any other.

 

Both very down to earth guys, they tell it like it is.

Being a commercial crime writer

They go on to tell us about the timescales for commercial authors and the expectations of both the readers and the publishers. The basic gist is that a commercial crime writer is to publish about one novel per year and ususllay it occurs that whilst they are publicising their new novel, they are working on their next one.

Considering the nature of their work, they are both very humorous and they speak about how there is little rivalry amongst commercial crime writers, this is down to the readership being vast.

“Just because you read a Michael Connolly, it does not mean you won’t then go on to read a Mark Billingham. We love that about our readers. And it means we don’t have the same rivalry as other genres.” (I’m paraphrasing here).

Both Martyn and Mark say that crime writers have a lot of fun because of this. In fact, Bloody Scotland (the crime writers literary festival) sees a five-a-side football match and the authors tend to drink at the bar with the patrons, rather than at their own private bar in a screened off area.

Martin also tells us that he “Is in a band” with several other crime writers. The Fun Lovin Crime writers.

 

Questions for the authors

When asked about the casting of one of his characters in the Thorne tv series, he states that he wasn’t his first choice either and some decisions were made about the character’s appearance based upon the actor’s preferences. Mark does go on to say though;

“Do you see Tom Cruise when you read a Reacher novel? No!”

And I agree. I was very sceptical about Jack Reacher Being played by Tom Cruise in the same way I was, and still am a little put out by Harry Bosch being played by Titus Welliver.  That being said, I still watch and enjoy both.

[In the up and coming TV series Tom Cruise is set to be replaced as Lee Child gives in to Fans]

 

Why write under different names?

Martyn has written six books under the pseudonym of Tania Carver. Why? Because he could. It all came about when his publicist agonised over the fact that he was lacking a high concept female thriller writer. Martyn to the rescue. He thought, I could do that, and so he did.

Which really does make an interesting divergence from the belief that women who write crime should write under a male name and men who write romance should write under a female name to get more fans. As discussed in my previous article Female authors are taking over, or are they?

Martyn says – As an actor, I learnt to say I could do anything and that is how Tania was born. Six novels later and she is still going strong.

He then tells us about her ‘coming out’ party which certainly gets the audience laughing.

This evening was a great night’s entertainment. A mixed audience of men and women, although an average age of about 50 with me being one of a handful of young people in the crowd, which really did surprise me. I suppose it just goes to show that reading for pleasure is still something that is predominantly done by the older generation. Or perhaps this was just a freak coincidence.

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.