The wonders of bee life

Melissa Harrison in The Guardian:

Early on in Helen Jukes’s A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings she ponders the increasing popularity of urban beekeeping, referring to the idea that “one possible psychological response to the apprehension of a threat is to begin producing idealised versions of the thing we perceive of as being at risk”. That’s also a good explanation for the current crop of bee books: not just A Honeybee Heart and Thor Hanson’s Buzz, but Kate Bradbury’s wonderful The Bumblebee Flies Anyway and Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees, among others. Books, like hives, are ways of capturing something and holding on to it: either helping to preserve it, or looking at it closely before it’s gone.

A Honeybee Heart is in the tradition of H Is for Hawk and other recent works that combine natural history with memoir. Some have felt rather stale and derivative, or have overplayed the author’s emotional link with the creature in question. Happily, Jukes avoids this: she’s interested in bees because, well, bees are interesting, and if anything the personal side is played down, particularly at the start of the book. Having had some experience helping a beekeeper in London, she decides to get a hive not long after moving to Oxford. Bored in her job, restless and lacking stable attachments, Jukes discovers that keeping bees helps to anchor her, and she explores the way in which they change her, just as her efforts alter the behaviour of the bees. There’s some satisfying (if at times slightly pat) mirroring as the personal and apine sides of the book progress in tandem, but she wears her considerable research lightly. I only wish I could have envisaged her hive better: it’s a “top bar” type rather than the more familiar Langstroth, and her descriptions of what the bees were building each time she opened it seemed fascinating, but went clean over my head. It is not unreasonable to ask how many more nature memoirs the market can support; the answer, I think, is only the best. Finely written and insightful, A Honeybee Heart is surely one of them.

More here.