Mean Girls if you aged the cast 20 years, gave them kids and set the action in the English home counties. 4 stars.
The blurb: It’s the start of another school year at St. Ambrose. While the children are busy in the classroom, their mothers are learning sharper lessons. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power… and how to get invited to lunch.
Beatrice — undisputed queen bee. Ruler, by Divine Right, of all school fundraising, this year, last year, and, surely, for many to come.
Heather — desperate to volunteer, desperate to be noticed, desperate to belong.
Georgie — desperate for a cigarette.
And Rachel — watching them all, keeping her distance. But soon to discover that the line between amused observer and miserable outcast is a thin one.
The Hive is funny, well-observed and strikes a good balance between its comic and more serious moments. The story is told in close third person through several characters’ POVs. These are well differentiated and so the viewpoint switching is never confusing. It also gives the author the chance to present several different experiences of motherhood, and readers with kids will recognise and/or empathise with several of the women’s thoughts.
The narrative moves along at a good pace with the school year providing a strong chronological framework for events. My edition (the hardback) had 300 pages and that felt a good length, any more and I think it would have stretched itself too thin.
When I first finished the book, I wondered a lot about whether it was a 5-star read. It made me laugh a lot and the ending is rather fuzzy, leaving you with a happy glow. Then I realised: if I had to think so much about whether it was a 5-star book for me, then it wasn’t. So now I have to come up with reasons why it’s not…
I have a few niggles. Firstly, there’s a running joke regarding the way one of the characters insists her son is Gifted and Talented when this clearly isn’t the case. It made me a little uneasy because at times it felt as though the joke was at the expense of a kid with special educational needs (although I’m sure this was never the intention). I would also have liked one chapter or even just a scene told from the POV of the “villain” of the piece. Villains are people too, and it would have been great to have further insight into what lay behind her behaviour other than, “she has to be this way for plot reasons”.
Finally, I felt the metaphor of the hive was laid on a bit thick. It was almost as if the author and/or editors were worried readers wouldn’t get it and so repeatedly highlighted the parallels between the behaviour of the female characters and the bees. But it’s not that hard a concept to grasp; it could have been mentioned once or twice and then left alone.
Overall: quibbles aside, I enjoyed The Hive very much and laughed out loud more than once. Recommended if you enjoy the nuances of female group politics. Or Mean Girls. If you liked that movie but left high school a good while ago, check this out.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul