Snippy, snarky, snide, or saintly, the mums of St. Ambrose Church Primary School come in all temperaments in The Hive, a first novel by Gill Hornby, but Bea is the acknowledged queen of them all, doling out jobs to her eager worker bees.
Taking place over the course of a year at St. Ambrose Church Primary, the novel shifts perspectives from one character to the other, but readers only form a picture of Bea through the eyes of others. The author first introduces readers to the outwardly admirable and hardworking Bea from the point of view of Rachel, age 40, a smart woman and talented artist whose self-esteem has been shattered over the summer when her husband left her for another woman and requested a divorce. Smugly secure in her position as Bea’s first lieutenant, Rachel brings her daughter to school on the first day of the new school year only to find, to her dismay, that she’s suddenly on the outs with Bea. She acts nonchalant about her sudden fall in stature at the school with her few remaining friends, and begins to see Bea with new eyes.
The author’s writing style is a little unusual – personal, but also clinical, like a sociologist studying his/her own tribe. The author observes Rachel briefly, letting readers in on her thoughts, then moves on to other mothers in her circle, and returns again to Rachel – much as, in the story, Rachel’s independent-minded mother checks on the bees in her backyard hive. With just about all female characters – mothers, daughters or both – the book veers into hen lit territory at times, especially with the new schoolmaster being divorced and the same age as Rachel. But The Hive is mostly a humorous social commentary on what might happen when mean girls grow up and about the treacherous allure that popularity in closed groups has, even among adults.
The book made me laugh many times. Rachel is the main character, but she has a small circle of friends who are also not in with the in crowd, such as Georgie and Jo, the last of the mums to still smoke openly. The minutes that Rachel’s friend Heather takes as secretary of the Extraordinary Fund-Raising Committee are especially funny. Throughout the book, poor Heather tries and tries to get into Bea’s inner circle, but her strenuous efforts appear to Rachel to be hopeless. She can’t, however, persuade her to stop.
In addition to the exciting news about the eligibility of the new schoolmaster, life at St. Ambrose this fall becomes even more interesting with the entry of two new mothers who don’t seem to understand their place in the hive.
A publishers’ bidding war resulted in a six-figure contract for this talented newbie author with excellent connections. (Nick Hornby is her brother and Robert Harris, her husband.)
Click here to read a lengthy excerpt from the beginning of the book.
Sept. 10, 2013
$25.00 US, $28.00 CAN, hard.