At first I thought the novel had been written by renowned American author, Marilynne Robinson, because the tone of the story, the slow, measured delivery of information, the nostalgia for an earlier simpler time, were redolent of her novel Gilead. A novel, by the way, which I greatly admire. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it soon.
I checked the jacket photo of the author, Ms Peggy Hesketh, resorted to Wikipedia, and discovered Peggy Hesketh is a journalist and author and currently teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California. Furthermore she definitely bears no physical resemblance to Ms Robinson. This said, I still think her prose is in the same category. It’s elegant, lucid, and paints a picture of the beekeeper, the solitary Mr Albert Hoenig, who has lived all his life in the house his parents built, in a small town. He lives a very quiet life, devoted to his beekeeping and modest activities – walking to the Library, for instance; reading poetry and his beloved books.
When his lifelong neighbours are murdered, the past begins to reveal itself ever so slowly, and Mr Hoenig is forced to revisit his relationship with his neighbours, and long repressed events and feelings. At the end of the book – and the finale is quite dark – I needed to remind myself I’d been reading a crime novel, but the crime is so low key and the emphasis of the book is on the technical and historical aspects of beekeeping , together with Mr Koenig’s slow reminiscences. I learnt a lot about beekeeping by the time I reached The End! What I found fascinating were the snippets of beekeeping traditional lore – hence the title Telling the Bees. A successful beekeeper is attuned to his bees, the hive, their moods, and he (or she) uses traditional rhymes and rituals at certain times – lore passed down over the generations. Mr Hoenig really did tell the bees about important things. Perhaps a little too late.
A strange and unusual book. It’s beautifully written. If you enjoy elegant prose and would like to learn about the honeybee, then try this novel.