Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
|Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale|
|Summary: An absolutely stunning debut novel, part love story, part gothic romance, imbued with a touch of magic realism for good measure.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: August 2009|
|Publisher: Headline Review|
The first few chapters of this amazing work, had me scratching my head, and pondering, 'what on earth is this about, and where is it going?' It struck me as simply bizarre. However, I was quickly reeled in, and the initially disparate cast of characters, who seemed more like caricatures, soon had lives of their own - and fascinating ones at that!
A brief précis of the plot, sees us entering a very odd world. Modern, ancient, somewhere in between? Strange customs and events dominate, and the location is never really clear. In this strange world, we focus on the lives of two families. Meridia, and her parents, who live separate lives, with Gabriel the father, disappearing every evening, in a cloud of mist, returning to the sinister family home the following morning. Daniel, the boy she meets and falls in love with, appears to belong to a more conventional family - jewellers in another part of town. However, they too have their secrets, and it's only when the young couple marry, that the depths of these secrets are gradually revealed. A truly horrific series of events from the past gradually unfolds, and has the reader time and again gasping with astonishment.
Each of the parents is characterised by a unique symbol. For Gabriel, he is preceded by the swirling mist which envelopes him as he leaves for his clandestine meetings. Ravenna, Meridia's mother, is announced by the fragrance of lemon verbena. Daniel's mother Eva, can be spotted by the incessant drone and sting of bees. Truly the mother in law from hell, this is a particularly effective symbol , and we quickly learn that when the drone of bees manifests itself, trouble will follow in its wake. Daniel's father is the most normal figure, and is symbolised by his collection of books, in which he tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hide himself.
The characterisation initially felt purely allegorical, but behind the façade there are tangible, real characters awaiting the chance to wriggle into our hearts. Covering three generations, we follow their horrors and tragedies, long to comfort them in their agonies,and take Eva to task, time and again for her vindictive, evil ways! Although they all have their faults, they do develop into more admirable and braver people as the novel unfolds. Alongside the main personalities, we become involved with some of the lesser characters, notably Daniel's two sisters, and the servants in the household. As expected, Eva uses these people to further her own ends, indulging one daughter, whilst despising the younger, and manipulating them both -rather familiar territory for some families, but played out here to a tragic conclusion. Setiawan is so talented, that he is able to have the reader simultaneously despising some of the characters, whilst also sympathising with their actions. For example, although Malin, the elder sister, is truly despicable, we nonetheless make excuses for her, having been subjected as she was at an early age to Eva's cunning and malevolent influences.
The prose flows beautifully, and gives the reader huge pleasure - whether describing food, places, people, customs and traditions, a very colourful and tangible world emerges - all the more remarkable as time and location are never really clear. I found great difficulty categorising this work, but see it ultimately as an 'adult fairy tale' - using huge amounts of allegory and metaphor, it nonetheless describes some very real people, and has the reader turning the pages with enthusiasm and desire to know what will ultimately transpire. Happy or sad fairy tale? That would be telling, and in some ways the conclusion is not terribly surprising, but that is no bad thing! If you're looking for something to read, that's a bit different, hugely innovative, with a cracking plot - look no further……The author deserves to enjoy huge success with this debut novel, and I will be awaiting his next work with eager anticipation - and in the meantime, will have to satisfy myself with re-reading Bees at some point (something I rarely do, and indicative, therefore, of how wonderful this book truly is).
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this type of book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
You can read more book reviews or buy Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.