Fiction – paperback; Bloomsbury Circus; 288 pages; 2020. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
‘Here is the beehive.
Where are the bees?
Hidden away where nobody sees.
Watch and you’ll see them
come out of the hive.
One, two, three, four, five!’
So goes the nursery rhyme that lends its title to Sarah Crossan’s debut novel, Here is the Beehive.
The bees hiding in their hive represent the narrator’s deeply secretive world, for this is a compelling story about one woman’s adulterous affair and the pain of hiding her grief when her lover unexpectedly dies.
I read it in two sittings, unable to tear myself away from it. It was akin to watching a car crash. And yet there was something strangely beautiful about the tale.
This is despite the fact that the narrator, Ana, isn’t a particularly nice person. She’s deceitful, self-centred and not exactly reliable. She uses her high-powered job as a lawyer specialising in wills and estates as a cover for staying away from her marital home for long periods so she can carry on her affair with Connor.
And then, when her lover dies after a three-year-long elicit relationship, she gets to meet his widow, Rebecca, because she is the executor of Connor’s will.
Yes, it’s a bit twisted. And that’s probably why the narrative works, for I was itching to find out what would happen next; what outrageous thing would Ana try? Would she ever confess her secret to Rebecca, share her grief or break down in front of her own family? Any wonder I couldn’t put it down.
One of the most interesting aspects of Here is the Beehive is the way that the book is laid out. I’ve seen it labelled a “verse novel” because the story is broken into stanzas. There are no large chunks of text. Each paragraph is surrounded by plenty of white space, another reason why it’s so easy to read.
And the prose is beautiful, filled with exquisite observations, achingly human sentiment — little jealousies, bitterness, misplaced compassion — and all-too authentic insights into marriage and family life.
And did I mention it’s written in the second person?
You kissed my face
on a bench in Coldfall Wood
and told me you were sorry
about the woman and her sick child,
and sorry I never had time to stop
and sorry you couldn’t take care of me
and sorry you were married
and sorry I was married
and sorry also for yourself.
Here is the Beehive is an intense, immersive read, the kind that gets under the skin. It’s a simple yet stunning piece of work. More, please.