Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: The Hive, Gill Hornby

The Hive

Gill Hornby

Little, Brown, 2013

Welcome to St Ambrose Primary School. A world of friendships, fights and feuding. And that's just the mothers.

It's the start of another school year at St Ambrose. But while the children are in the classroom colouring in, their mothers are learning sharper lessons on the other side of the school gates. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power... and how to get invited to lunch.

The Hive centres on the school gates of a primary school, where a group of women spend a year negotiating old friendships and forging new ones, dealing with domestic grief and domestic bliss, worrying about their children, and fundraising their arses off. Bea, the 'Queen Bee', rules the group, delegating all the work and taking all the credit, and making everyone feel like crap while she's doing it (unless you're one of the chosen ones, of course). Rachel, the main character, exists on the periphery of the group, alongside Heather (desperately eager to please) and Georgie (couldn’t give a shit) and a host of other mums, including posh newbie Bubba and mysterious, unflappable Melissa.

The Hive sounded interesting – the ups and downs of female friendship, and what seemed like great potential for a bit of black humour. There are some sharp, well-observed parts early on that had me hoping for something a bit dark and wicked underneath this middle-class-suburban-yummy-mummies scenario.

Instead, I got an annoying hive metaphor (I GET IT) and a lot of “meh”. The well-observed seemed to descend into stereotype a few too many times for my liking. There were too many instances of women saying “lolz” out loud (and really, one instance would have been too many), and a really weird scene where all the women apparently stood on a table to compare body fat. Er.

The Hive had promise, but for the most part failed to deliver. I felt like I was “about halfway through” for days on end. The book takes the reader through a school year, focusing for the most part on different fundraising occasions, that highlight the in/out cliquey nature of the group and the changing dynamics of the relationships. There were some good bits – Heather’s health scare, and Bea’s engineering of it so it was all about her, stood out and seemed sharp. But somewhere around the midway point, the romance element pops up, and the book started pulling in two different directions. (And the ending was just aggravating – neat and sugary and a little bit deflating.)

The Hive is okay, and not a bad debut – it just lacked the punch that I felt it could have had. An interesting observation of friendship and its complicated dynamics, but in the end it was inconsequential at best.

Overall rating: 5/10

Book source: Received as a gift.

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