Telling the Bees

Telling the BeesWhat an insightful and interesting book, despite the fact that it has sad undertones.  Eighty-year-old Albert Honig from California, who is a beekeeper and has been a bachelor all his life, is still a very likable and sympathetic character.  We feel for him when he recalls the day he discovered the bodies of his next door neighbors (The Bee Ladies), lifeless with gags in their mouths and tied up, in their very own house.
We get the sense that Albert has always been a quiet type of person who would keep most things to himself—even vital secrets that, he believes, has no business being mentioned.  After Detective Grayson comes on to the crime scene, however, Albert’s acquaintance of the dead women becomes very important, if not crucial to solving the case.  There is so much more to the story than meets the eye and Albert has to admit with grave sadness that he had distanced himself from the two sisters long before the home burglary was committed.
The horrifying incident allows Albert to remember and analyze everything he did and said in the years that he was friends with both of them (but more so with Claire, whose friendship he cherished dearly).  It also makes him feel tremendous guilt that the crime took place without his knowledge and that he may have been able to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place.  He regrets the years he rarely spoke to Claire because of a past episode that truly offended her and made her angry at him.
As detective Grayson searches for answers by showing Albert pictures from the past, so do memories get conjured up in Albert’s mind—from when he first meets Claire as a young girl, to the last time all communication between them halted because her temper flared due to a certain visit from an estranged family member.
Albert is left to ponder on how silence from pride and hurt or misunderstandings, can cause unnecessary pain.  At one point in the book, he is a witness at court and finds out who the suspects are, which eventually concludes that there was no real motive for the murder.  Yet, almost twenty years after the crime, Albert finds out the real truth regarding the connection between the burglars and the elderly sisters.
Throughout his narration, we also learn about honey bees and beekeeping.  At the start of each chapter, there is a definition of bee terms.  While he tells us his tale, Albert also gives us lessons on how to manage bee hives and delivers facts on the life cycle of honey bees.
Hesketh is a very talented writer.  Her words are lyrical and she uses Albert’s character to weave sentences that are truly literary.  The idea of the plot and how it is presented makes for a genuinely good read.  There is much about this storyline to discuss in a book club.  Telling the Bees is her debut novel and if she continues to write with such a fine skill, I would look forward to any other story she has to offer.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with my opinion?

If you are a member of the library we have this title currently in Hard copy (F H584t) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on Telling the Bees, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post:

From Kirkus Reviews:

For information on Peggy Hesketh, click below:

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to answer after you have read the book:

Telling the Bees is narrated from Albert’s first-person perspective, the story unfolding entirely through his internal thoughts and memories.  Did you trust Albert’s recollection of the past?
-Do you think Albert is freed from the past by the novel’s conclusion? Does finally solving and closing a chapter on the murders give Albert a sense of redemption?

For more questions that are generously provided by Oneworld Publications, click below:

Interesting Tidbit:
Everything that is mentioned in the novel about bees and beekeeping fascinated me.  There were so many facts that I never even thought about but was impressed when I learned them from this book.  If you are also interested in honey bees or becoming a beekeeper, take a look at this website:

This book reminded me of …
There were surprisingly four titles that were prominent in my mind when I read this.  This book had the same tone as The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard.  Something about the farming of bees versus farming strawberries and the melancholy plot just connects these two stories.  Another novel that focuses on beekeeping, of course, is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  I read that one quite some time ago, but the importance of beekeeping is present in both works.  I also thought about how philosophical Albert is in Hesketh’s story and realized that because of the thought processes about truth and life that it conjured up memories of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  Finally, I have to mention Web of Angels by Lilian Nattel.  Claire’s family situation reminds me of what Cathy goes through in her household.  The tragedies of things happening behind closed doors, while others are unaware or choose to be naive, rings true in each book.

Favorite quote from book:
“It was Cicero, I believe, who observed that no snares are ever so insidious as those lurking as dutiful devotion or labeled as family affection.  You can escape from an open foe, but when deceit lurks in the bosom of a family it can pounce upon you before you have spied it or recognized it for what it is.” (p. 262)

Most revealing moment in the story:
As readers, we already guess earlier on in the novel who may be the father of Claire’s baby (David Gilbert).  When Albert reads Claire’s diary nearly 20 years after her death, he sadly realizes the truth about the child’s paternity, even though he had figured out long ago that David was hers. (p. 305)

Next month’s title:
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

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8 Responses to Telling the Bees

  1. Hello! I’ve been reading your website for somke time now and finally got the courage to go ahead andd
    give you a shout out from Dallas Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

  2. Are the discussion questions available anywhere else? The link to oneworld doesn’t work. Our book club is discussing this book next month and I would like to have some questions. Thank you from Somerset, Kentucky.

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Kelley! That is really upsetting. I did not know that questions from books chosen on the site would only be temporary. It would have been nice if they were available through the author’s website but they are not. I tried all other online book forums and none have the discussion questions that were previously on OneWorld. The only solution is to either contact the author or OnwWorld by email, perhaps. Sorry about that 😦 Hope your book club goes well—there are a lot of things to discuss. I moderate book clubs at my library and to be honest, I don’t usually use the discussion questions. I read reviews from various articles and take notes on what was commented, then use those comments or critiques to fuel a discussion among the group. Those and the two questions from my site may start an engaging conversation. Hope this helps.

      • I run two book clubs at our library. The one that is discussing Telling the Bees has the members lead the discussion and some of them like to have some questions in case the discussion isn’t going well. I will contact OneWorld and see if they can help. Thanks!

  3. Melissa says:

    I should hope that OneWorld would have them somewhere as they did exist at one point! Good luck 🙂

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