Rabbits have Watership Down, badgers have Duncton Wood and now honey bees have The Bees, a wonderful novel by Laline Paull.
Flora 717 is born into the lowly rank of a cleaning bee and works her way up through the colony until she becomes a forager. During this time, the hive survives attacks from wasps, poisoning from pesticides, visits from the bee-keeper with the fumigation tools and even the coming of winter.
This is a real adventure story, with wonderful descriptions of the relationship between the forager bees and the flowers they feed on:
Flora pushed her own scent through her feet as she settled on the dark glossy leaves. The plant's citrus sweetness immediately brightened her senses and the fatigue of her journey fell away.
At the same time the novel draws attention to some of the many problems bees face in today's world by presenting them as challenges the bees face in their life, rather than as ecological issues.
Paull has done a wonderful job of getting into the mind of a bee and imagining what it must be like to live in a colony where smell is the dominant sense and the hive works to a large extent as one organism, where the 'hive voice' over-rules individual desires and wishes.
My only criticism is that the book presents worker honey bees as being stuck in one category of work for all their lives, with only Flora 717 somehow escaping this fate and trying out all the tasks needed for a healthy hive. I'm sure this was done for dramatic reasons but in reality, each worker bee works her way through all the tasks as explained in this article from the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Regardless of that, this is an engrossing book that I'd definitely recommend to anyone interested in bees. I've always loved bees, but now every honey bee I see now is Flora and I wish her well.
The Bees by Laline Paull published by Fourth Estate (2014)