Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Bees is the debut novel by Laline Paull, published in 2015.

When I first saw the cover, title, and glowing recommendations from authors such as Margaret Atwood, I thought The Bees was going to be a dystopian novel exploring human society through metaphors and language associated with bees – such as the phrase ‘hivemind’. As I started reading, however, I realised the book really is about bees.

The Bees follows the perspective of Flora 717, a sanitation bee who lives to accept, obey, and serve the hive in order to honour the Queen. Whilst sanitation bees are the lowest in society and social progression is unheard of, Flora is gifted with abilities uncharacteristic of her kin. She is a mutant. Throughout the novel, Flora is reassigned to new roles within the hive and struggles to find a place to belong and, in doing so, accidentally uncovers ominous secrets being hidden from the rest of the hive.

To be quite honest, I didn’t imagine a book about a beehive would be as engrossing as it was.

Flora’s frequent reassignments allow the reader to gradually learn more about the beehive and how it works, which was interesting.

I also enjoyed Paull’s writing, as The Bees contains lots of classic dystopian motifs: the hive is compelled to follow an extreme form of religion, fertility is strictly regulated – only the Queen is allowed to lay eggs – and there are regular police inspections to ensure no bee is stepping out of line. I could see particular references to other great dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World.

Brave New World:

  • “Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfuly glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”

The Bees:

  • “A flora may not make Wax for she is impure, nor work with Propolis for she is clumsy, nor may she ever forage for she has no taste, but only may she clean, and all may command her labour.”

However, there was an aspect of the plot I found puzzling.

If Flora is a mutant bee and is therefore assumed to be a rebel, why isn’t she exiled, executed, or even interrogated? Throughout the novel, numerous other bees who are merely suspected of non-conformist behaviour are immediately executed or exiled from the hive. Flora, however, is ignored, reassigned, or simply told off – for seemingly no other reason than she is the protagonist, and to execute her at the start of the novel would spoil the plot.

Despite this query, The Bees is certainly a very good and interesting debut novel; I would recommend.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

First published in 1977, The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter is an interesting book (albeit an odd book).

The book is set in dystopian America (isn’t everything?), where a civil war has broken out between groups of people who differ in either gender, race, or politics. The main character, Evelyn, travels to New York City and begins a meaningless sexual relationship with a woman named Leilah. Evelyn abandons Leilah and escapes into the desert, where he is kidnapped by The Mother, a cult leader who wants to surgically transform everyone into women. Evelyn then becomes Eve as he is forcibly changed into a woman. The book follows Evelyn / Eve  as they struggle to understand their new assigned gender identity.

Essentially, a new woman is formed from man and called Eve. As tends to be the case with Carter, this is a not-so-subtle exploration of sexuality, gender roles and feminism.

The Passion of New Eve is clearly and deliberately meant to spark debates about sex and gender. For example, in the case of Evelyn / Eve, the book implies that one is not necessarily born a woman but becomes a woman by learning about femininity through culture and society. The book also suggests femininity is an illusion, which can be performed with the right appearance and the right body parts.

I liked the morbid and grotesque scenes, such as when Evelyn is kidnapped on two separate occasions by two separate cults. The cults’ behaviours and attitudes were horrible and frightening and I think authors’ uses of cults are an interesting part of the Dystopian tradition. Personally, I think her ability to write creepy and horrible things is where Carter excels.

Whilst I liked these Dystopian parts, there were other bits of the book I didn’t understand in the slightest.

It gets weird towards the end – there’s talk of time and consciousness and the self and identity and it’s all just a bit confusing. A snippet from the Wikipedia plot summary says:

‘Lilith tells Eve she must go and meet The Mother and pushes her into a cleft in the rocks that metamorphoses into the uterus of time. Eve progresses through the increasingly deep and warm subterranean rock pools to her rebirth.’

What?

Although The Passion of New Eve isn’t the weirdest book I’ve ever read, it’s not exactly completely normal either.

So far, every Angela Carter book I’ve ever read feels completely different to everything else she’s written. I loved her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, (even if the feminist messages were still extremely obvious) because it was a fun mix of Gothic horror, fairy-tales, and subverted and perverted narratives.

In contrast, Wise Children was … okay. I don’t really remember it. I didn’t particularly like it or dislike it. The story was okay and the characters were a somewhat quirky bunch of flawed people, but it never made a distinctive impression.

In contrast yet again, The Passion of New Eve is definitely more weird, more Gothic, more Dystopian, and more memorable than Wise Children, but less enjoyable and less easy to understand than The Bloody Chamber.

I don’t really know what else to say.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: High Rise by J.G. Ballard

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

High Rise is a novel by J. G. Ballard, which explores how modern landscapes can alter the human psyche. The book is about a high-rise apartment block, which was designed to be the most perfect living space. However, as the high-rise psychically degenerates, the tenants of the high-rise morally degenerate.

I decided to read High Rise after reading The Unlimited Dream Company for university. I wrote a blog post about The Unlimited Dream Company, which you can read here.  Comparatively, High Rise is so much better.

High Rise has a coherent narrative, a conventional narrative form, and clearly defined characters: all of which are lacking from The Unlimited Dream Company. I have no idea why The Unlimited Dream Company was selected for a module about Dystopian literature and High Rise wasn’t.

High Rise has an interesting concept, though I thought the fact the lower-class citizens lived on the bottom floors and the upper-class citizens lived on the top floors was a bit … simple.

The novel foregrounds themes of class and civilisation and questions the arbitrary nature of social status and civilised behaviour as, once disaster strikes, these social codes disintegrate entirely because the tenants of the high-rise revert back to primitive states of being.

I liked the way the apartments became like prisons, as tenants wanted to leave the increasingly horrible state of the apartment building and yet were either trapped by more “feral” tenants or couldn’t bring themselves to escape because of the money they’d invested in their apartment.

The story was interesting and entertaining, even though none of the characters were likeable – I think this was intentional – and some parts of the novel were a little difficult to follow.

After reading High Rise, my main reaction was simply relief that it wasn’t as horrible, bizarre, confusing, or incoherent as The Unlimited Dream Company.

Read High Rise if you’d like. Avoid The Unlimited Dream Company.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Film Review: Bird Box

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. This is a film review, instead of a book review, for a change!

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

This is the second part of my blog posts about Bird Box, the post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman and the Netflix adaptation of the same name. In Bird Box, characters are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves, and so must navigate the world blindfolded.

When thinking about the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box, I don’t want to whine that everything in the film didn’t match everything in the book. Altering small details in an adaptation doesn’t matter to me. However, there were some drastic changes made to Bird Box for its adaptation that altered the entire narrative and – I’d argue – made it worse.

Firstly, in the novel, Malorie’s sister dies after a period of time once the crisis has hit. At this point, Malorie and her sister have already been trapped in their house for a while, and so have adapted to survive in a world where sight is dangerous. Following her sister’s death, a pregnant Malorie is forced to seek new shelter, as suddenly she is left alone and vulnerable, and needs someone to help her with the birth. This all means that Malorie’s sister’s death is saddening and impactful, because the reader has had time to become familiar with her, and sympathise with Malorie’s loss of a family member and her loss of the family home. Malorie’s sister’s death is also a catalyst which pushes Malorie to be strong and brave, taking a risk to ensure the survival of her baby. In the film, Malorie’s sister dies almost instantly in a car collision. Malorie then sees a house nearby and seeks refuge. This does not create anywhere near as much impact. The audience barely spends any time with Malorie’s sister before she dies, and Malorie herself is little affected apart from being somewhat mopey when she arrives at the house. This change in the narrative hardly seems to benefit the film at all, and makes me wonder why they decided to change it.

Secondly, the entire premise of Bird Box was sadly undermined in the film adaptation because characters automatically removed their blindfolds when they were inside, assuming themselves to be safe. However, the characters themselves demonstrate awareness that the creatures can get inside buildings. This begs the question: How can characters guarantee somewhere is safe, without looking, simply because it is inside? This was particularly irksome when they came across new locations, such as a supermarket or empty house to raid. Malorie also does this – yanking her blindfold off the minute she steps inside a room when seeking shelter for the children, when there is no guarantee that there isn’t a creature inside waiting. This was a foolish thing to overlook – Malorie from the novel would never do this, especially when the lives of Girl and Boy would be put at risk.

Still taken from film.
Still taken from film.

Thirdly, in the film, Boy and Girl are frustratingly disobedient. In the book, Malorie trains the children from birth navigate the world with their eyes closed – they even wake up with their eyes closed. The children obey her every command perfectly, understanding how serious it is that they do what she says. Admittedly, Malorie’s regimented, strict, protectiveness over Boy and Girl was carried over into the film well, as I thought Sandra Bullock was a good representation of Malorie’s character. However, though Malorie regularly shouts and demands they follow her instructions, Boy and Girl are continuously disobeying, wandering off, getting lost, and almost take their blindfolds off as a consequence. Whilst this scene is meant to “increase the tension” of the film, it would never have happened in the book because the children were well-taught to obey Malorie’s every word, at all times, regardless. This directly undermines the emphasis the film places on Malorie’s regular instructions to Boy and Girl, and makes Malorie’s strict personality redundant.

Still taken from film.

Finally, there is another drastic change in the film adaptation.  In the novel, once they are on the river, Malorie knows a time is coming when she must look – only for a second – because the river will fork and she must be able to see in order to steer. This is another example of Malorie making a decision which, though it could be potentially dangerous for her, would ensure the children have a chance to reach safety. This parallels Malorie’s decision to leave the house following the death of her sister, as easy and as comfortable as it would have been for her to stay. Ultimately, these two events test Malorie’s bravery and strength, and her determination as a mother. However, in the film, Malorie announces that they are approaching rapids, and one of the children must look, in order to navigate and shout directions. Then, in a “noble” act of love, Malorie decides no-one will look, deciding she will not risk the life of Boy or Girl. This decision is meant to be seen as honourable and brave, and yet it comes across as foolhardy and dangerous. As a result, all three of them nearly drown after being thrown about on the rapids. This does not foreground bravery or present Malorie as a strong mother figure, as the scene does in the novel.

To sum up, these are four key problems with the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box that have arisen simply from unnecessarily changing the source material.

An Aside: In a world where to look means to die, I would expect characters to be more proactive in blocking sources of daylight. In the book, every window is covered with blinds, towels, newspaper, tape – anything to stop a fraction of light getting inside. In the film, the blinds are barely pulled shut and all the curtains are made from lightweight, thin, pale fabric. Admittedly, this gives the film an arguably “aesthetic” pale colour palette. Yet, this is just another element of the film which has been overlooked, and seemingly undermines the entire premise of Bird Box before it has even properly begun.

Still taken from film.

Unfortunately, after enjoying the book so much, I was left disappointed by the film adaptation. If you’d still like to experience the story of Bird Box, I’d recommend you read the book instead.

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more reviews like this.

Have you read this book, or watched the film? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Bird Box is a novel similar in style to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The children, Girl and Boy, are nameless. Short sentences and capital letters are used to increase the tension. Furthermore, Bird Box is primarily concerned with family, and the survival of Malorie and the two children in her care.

The book is also similar to the fantastic film A Quiet Place; Bird Box was published in 2014 and A Quiet Place wasn’t released until 2018, so the criticism that Bird Box simply copied John Krasinski’s fantastic idea is an ill-founded one, I think. Unlike A Quiet Place, in which the characters are not allowed to make noise, the characters in Bird Box are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves.

Bird Box has conventional Dystopian elements, such as focusing on a group of survivors working together to scavenge for supplies, find safe shelter, and protect one another from danger.

I liked the structure of the book and the use of alternate chapters. The chapters alternated between Malorie’s current life with Boy and Girl, as they try to reach the river and sail to safety, and Malorie’s past life, as the crisis hit and she found out she was pregnant.

The use of first-person narration was incredibly immersive; I felt like I was directly inside Malorie’s head at all times, experiencing her thoughts and feelings. It was scary to “see” the world from her perspective – to know there could be a creature in your house at any point, lurking behind you, watching you, trying to entice you, and yet you have to resist the urge to look.

I also liked that no clear explanation was offered to what the creatures are, where the creatures came from – or even if there are any creatures. Nobody can prove their existence because nobody can ever look. Furthermore, this deliberate ambiguity is more effective than being confronted with a grotesque monster, as the fear of the unknown is arguably more gripping.

All in all, I was very pleased with Bird Box and would recommend. When I learnt there was a Netflix adaptation, I was keen to watch it.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Road is a novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006. I wrote a film review of The Road a while ago after reading the book, which you can click here to read.

Dystopian?

The Road is clearly a Dystopian novel. It is set in America, following a worldwide catastrophe which has wiped out all pre-existing forms of society. The environment has been destroyed. Finding food, water, and shelter is a constant hardship. There is both physical degeneration of the earth, and moral degeneration of humanity, as violent, cannibalistic gangs have sprung up to prey on weaker humans for survival.  Furthermore, Dystopian literature often focuses on horrible, unimaginable places worse than the author’s own and highlights the plight of an individual and their attempt to survive in such a place. These genre conventions are evident in The Road, as the novel follows the plight of The Man and The Boy to travel through a harsh, oppressive landscape overrun by damage, decay, and waste in the hope of finding a safe haven at the coast.

Post-Apocalyptic?

The Road can also be considered post-apocalyptic literature, a genre similar to the Dystopian. The Road is set after an apocalyptic, catastrophic event that has destroyed the world. Much of the novel is concerned with detailing this new, frightening, post-apocalyptic world and how survival is even possible in such a place. Furthermore, the function of post-apocalyptic literature is to act as a warning for current readers and to encourage them to take preventative action now to avoid disasters in the future. For example, environmentalists often cite The Road as a warning about what will happen if the environment is not cared for and protected. Others cite The Road as a warning about the collapse of consumerist culture and materialism, as much of the waste littering America is from material luxuries enjoyed by previous societies.

Utopian?

In the midst of all this darkness, decay, and degeneration, it seems impossible that The Road could be considered Utopian in any way. However, The Road could be considered Utopian because it contains hope. Whilst the harsh landscapes and the hardships of life are present in the novel, they are never the central focus. Instead, the emphasis remains on The Man and The Boy, and The Man’s love, care, and protection of The Boy, his son. The Man also continuously encourages The Boy to make moral choices. Key examples of this are The Man’s refusal to engage in cannibalism and The Boy’s refusal to steal from others, even though there is no-one to punish them anymore. Thus, this enduring morality of The Man and The Boy can considered hopeful.

Like The Time Machine, the final decision on whether The Road is a somewhat hopeful, Utopian narrative, or a dark and depressing Dystopian novel is left for the reader to decide.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Unlimited Dream Company is a novel by J.G. Ballard, published in 1979. I have not written a book review of it; I think it’s too weird a book for that. The Unlimited Dream Company is about a man named Blake, who crashes a plane into the River Thames, outside the London suburb of Shepperton. He is supposed to drown, but doesn’t, and becomes a form of supernatural messiah figure for Shepperton.

In the lecture we were given on The Unlimited Dream Company, it was pointed out that it is not a novel which can be fitted easily into specific genres. However, I’ll attempt to.

Utopian?

On the one hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Utopian, because Blake experiences increasing happiness and freedom in the surreal and quasi-magical version of Shepperton in which he finds himself. This magical version of Shepperton is a world full of vibrant colours and plant life, which is encouraged by Blake to become an Edenic perfection. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Blake is in control of his own reality; his dreams are capable of literally coming true, an aspect of the narrative which is presented as happy and hopeful.

Dystopian?

On the other hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Dystopian, because Blake is unable to leave Shepperton, although he tries on numerous occasions to escape. He finds himself stuck in this mystical and inexplicable version of Shepperton. Furthermore, Blake seems to lack a moral compass and does whatever he wants, forming Shepperton into what he wants it to be, which may not be a dream come true for everyone else.

Gothic?

The Unlimited Dream Company also draws on many conventions of the Gothic genre. For example, Blake engages in numerous taboos such as paedophilic urges and the sexualisation of children, and extreme violence towards the townspeople of Shepperton. Additionally, the novel contains themes of death, resurrection and the supernatural – all of which are associated with the Gothic genre. Also, there are many liminal spaces in The Unlimited Dream Company, which is a convention of the Gothic genre. The geography of Shepperton morphs over time as Blake alters the world to his liking. Blake crashes into the River Thames at the start of the novel, but none of the townspeople revive him, yet Blake doesn’t drown. This makes it unclear whether Blake is truly alive, or whether he is trapped in some form of purgatory, or trapped within his own mind and sense of self. Blake also sees his doppelgänger (double) in The Unlimited Dream Company. At the end of the novel, Blake discovers the wreckage from the plane crash in the River Thames. He sees the body of a dead pilot within the sinking debris. However, it is left deliberately ambiguous as to whether this is Blake discovering his own dead body, or whether it truly is a different character, and Blake was never the pilot after all.

Overall, I think The Unlimited Dream Company most strongly draws upon surrealism and the Gothic genre. However, as it’s such a weird book, I am still struggling to understand it.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.