The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

I was prejudiced against this book, having tried to read it once before and discarded it. So I didn’t expect to get into it very quickly.

It’s actually quite easy to read. It’s easy to sympathise with Lily, who has an abusive father and huge guilt about causing the death of her mother when she was four years old. August Boatwright is the wise, patient, understanding mother-figure (and bit too good to be true?).

The bee-keeping sisters in Tiburon, South Carolina, accept Lily for who she is. They allow her to ‘heal’ at her own pace, and don’t make any demands on her. Likewise, they accept her housekeeper/nanny, Rosaleen, without cross-examining either her or Lily to find out why the pair are on the run.

I liked:

  • characterisation: Lily, Rosaleen, the Boatwright sisters
  • settings: Lily’s hiding place in the orchard; the night spent on the riverbank; the Boatwright sisters’ pink house
  • scenes: the Daughters of Mary in their spectacular hats, smearing honey all over the statue; Rosaleen spitting on the shoes of the taunting racists
  • Lily’s passage into adulthood
  • May Boatwright, the description of her trouble and how she finds an outlet for her sorrow by going to her ‘wall’

Not so keen on:

  • bees as a metaphor – a bit laboured
  • the Daughters of Mary cult – slightly absurd
  • demonisation of T Ray – only the merest hint that he is also a victim
  • male characters are all somewhat one-dimensional. This is a girls’ book!

Overall: easy to read, a nicely developed story, gives you a warm feeling at the end.

Score: 7/10

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Read in March 2010