This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kay Brooks
It’s the start of another school year at St Ambrose Primary School and everyone is raring to get started. If friendships, arguments and exclusive cliques exist in the classrooms, it’s nothing compared to what the mothers get up to. From social events to fundraising, everyone, willing or not, must play their part, all under the watchful eye of the queen of the hive.
My first impression, from reading the first chapter, was that the novel was aimed at teenagers and would revolve around the lives of the students. I was surprised and amused to realise that the overly-enthusiastic Heather, reluctant Rachel and bossy Bea were actually adults. Initially, there seemed to be a lot of characters to get used to, what with the mothers, their husbands and their children, but the characters are all very distinctive in terms of personality so this was not a problem after a few chapters. In fact, the metaphor of the social group being compared to a hive was enhanced by the amount of activity and socialisation continuously taking place.
Not all of the characters are likeable and it did take me a while to realise that they weren’t supposed to be. The novel took me back to my school days where there were lots of cliques and sub-cliques, but only one group was really popular and cool. Everyone else did their best to be a hanger on and have some sort of link to the perfect beings within it, back when people were excluded from groups for reasons completely beyond their control. I assume that everybody’s school experience included that one girl who seemed perfect in every single way: pretty, intelligent, thin and extremely popular! In The Hive, Bea is that girl, but she is the grown up version and just as we suspected when at school, she’s not quite as perfect as she seems. The effort that some of the characters put in to stay close to her made for an exhausting read!
I felt sorry for some of the characters but found that I could relate to them. Anyone who has experienced being an outsider or been on the cusp of the main action would feel the same. Jo, as an example, is going through a difficult time. Her husband is suffering from severe depression and she is struggling to hold their family together alone. Like others, she finds out who her true friends are by who is there for her when she needs them to be, with no benefit to themselves. As with any group of people, there are always some that surprise you and some of the characters have been hugely underestimated in their value as people, causing them to believe that they are worth less than the more popular women.
Interestingly, some of the children start to take on their mother’s attitudes to others and have to learn lessons about how to treat people. I would have liked to see more of the adults go through the same process but then perhaps it would have not been as realistic.
Hornby chooses not to write about some events that occur and instead to skip ahead in time. This kept the pace rapid but there were points when I was reluctant to leave the characters and it wasn’t made entirely clear what had happened afterwards. Another minor criticism would be that, while there were many valid points about women’s behaviour when in large groups, I felt that the book itself could be quite cliquey. At times, I wasn’t quite sure what certain sayings meant and found the dialogue difficult to follow and felt excluded from the story line because of this.
An invigorating and thoughtful read!