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Implacable Knots, Recurring Dreams and the Mother-in-Law from Hell...
Of Bees and Mist - Erick Setiawan
Member Name: gracefacedaisy
Of Bees and Mist - Erick Setiawan
Date: 27/03/10, updated on 28/03/10 (90 review reads)
Advantages: Works on lots of different levels, easy to read, intricate plot, easy to empathise with heroine...
Disadvantages: You'll wake up in the morning regretting you stayed up so late reading it!
The book is effectively a fairytale for grown-ups, and is therefore set in an old-fashioned fantasy town where magic exists but is not necessarily relied upon (so don't expect this to be a Harry-Potter-style wands-and-wizards story!). Instead, a lot of the magic just seems to happen, and often it is subjective. Therefore, often people will see things that nobody else can see, and it is sometimes difficult to figure out why this happens.
Our heroine, Meridia, is brought up in a house on top of a hill which is surrounded by mysterious mists. An ivory mist covers the steps to the front door, terrorising all visitors to the house by suspending them in mid-air, stealing their hats or simply chasing them away. A yellow mist came in the evening and waited outside her father's study until he slipped out, dressed to the nines. It would then follow him all the way to his destination. In the morning, a blue mist would travel the opposite way, bringing her father (Gabriel) back again, and then it would merge with the ivory mist. Where did Gabriel go at night? Or to whom?
Meridia has also had a recurring dream of a bright flash and a scream for as long as she can remember. Whenever she asks her mother (Ravenna) what it could mean, she is fobbed off by excuses - 'Some things are better left as dreams'. The relationship between her mother and father is also inexplicable - they live in the same house but Gabriel leaves at night. They don't speak to one another, but Ravenna cooks Gabriel dinner every evening. While she cooks, Ravenna mutters her deep hatred of Gabriel's probable lover into her pots and pans. She ties her hair up so tightly that it becomes an 'implacable knot', a constant in Meridia's life. And yet, Meridia knows for a fact that her parents used to be happy. Intrigued? You should be.
Meridia tries to investigate all of the unanswered questions in her life, but fails. A lonely only child, Meridia has no friends, never having been taught how to make friends. However, one day she is meets by chance a handsome young man by the name of Daniel who lived with his mother, father and two sisters. They quickly fall in love and are married within the year. Meridia might be forgiven for thinking that her troubles were at an end. She was wrong.
Daniel's mother, Eva, seemed like the most delightful, welcoming woman who ever lived on first acquaintance. But as soon as Meridia moved into the family home, she realised that she had not looked closely enough. It soon became clear that Eva was spreading falsehoods about Meridia to all members of the family, whispering and hinting here and there, making out that she was an extravagant and lustful charmer who had purposely bewitched Daniel for his money. She would use all of her wit to turn the family against her, equipped with her magical bees. Eva used her bees to sow lies and doubts into people's minds, boring them into their brains. Not everyone could see or hear the bees, but their buzzing kept Meridia awake at night. One day, she confronts Eva about her lies and the consequences are not pretty. It is a chance for Daniel to prove his love for Meridia, but will he stand up to the bees? To find out, you'll have to read the book!
It probably sounds like I've revealed quite a lot of the plot, but believe me that was only the tip of the iceberg! So many more incidents occur, some happy, but many that are shocking. Eva's evildoings eventually become absolutely horrific, and I often found myself getting truly angry with her completely sadistic campaign against Meridia. You'll be pleased to know that all of the questions posed in the book are answered as Meridia matures in her understanding. As a heroine, Meridia is likeable, although sometimes she can be just as ruthlessly determined as her antagonist. However, given her troubled background, I always found myself supporting her no matter what she did. Also, most of the novel is told from her perspective, and so I felt her knew her more intimately than the other characters.
In terms of content, you have to remember that this is very much a book for adults despite the fairy-tale setting. There are some sexual scenes, and some very crude sexual imagery used on Eva's part which might be inappropriate for younger teenagers and below. However the swearing is minimal, and for the most part the language is clean. Setiawan's writing style is very readable, and I always found it very difficult to put down no matter how late it was! Each chapter is quite short at around ten pages each, and so if you do choose to just read a chapter at a time then it doesn't take up too much time. With most books I like to be able to read a chapter a night but with this book I kept saying to myself "Just one more chapter!" until it was well past my bed time! At the end of each chapter there was often a sentence or a few lines which were foreboding or (yes, I'm going to use that word again) intriguing which acted as the 'hook' for me to continue reading.
However, my favourite thing about this book is the way that it works on so many different levels. You can look it on its surface-level fairy-tale plot with the evil mother-in-law hell-bent in wreaking destruction for the protagonist. You could go deeper and suggest that although Meridia hates Eva, she must have a grudging admiration for her determination as she begins to throw Eva's vile words back at her. You can look at the influence of Eva's bees on the people she inflicts them on; whether the doubts and lies are thoroughly invented by Eva or whether they are doubts and lies which have been sitting unacknowledged in their minds. I found myself wondering what each piece of magic symbolised in the real world, and whether this novel was in essence just a domestic drama with a twist. Even though you may physically put the book down, mentally I didn't put the book down for the two and a half weeks that it took me to read it because even when I wasn't reading I was wondering what the meaning of the book really was, what was going to happen in the next chapter, whether Ravenna's implacable knot represented this, that or the other, and so on. I even found myself dreaming about it!
It's a truly absorbing book, whilst being completely different from everything I'd ever read. The only book I can really liken it to is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke if you've ever read it, but really only because of the magical element combined with the time period. I really feel that this is something of a literary masterpiece and I'm sorely tempted to go back and analyse it all thoroughly (except I really don't have time to do that!); I feel sure that you could easily write an essay on it! Unsurprisingly, I'm giving this a confident five stars - it moved me emotionally whilst stimulating my intellectual side and the plot itself was so full of twists and turns it was like being in a maze! An incredible debut novel which is definitely worth a read.
Summary: A grown-up fairy-tale that will totally absorb you.