Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Reading 1 - Like Bees to Honey


I've never been to Malta. But after devouring Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes I felt as if I had. I actually read the book three months ago and decided to wait to review it, to see if that strong sense of place remained with me. Today I can still see, smell and taste Malta.

Nina returns to the island of her birth with her son, ready to face her demons. But what she finds instead is an island full of ghosts, presided over by a hippy Jesus who loves reality TV and hangs out in a bar. The ghosts are keen to share their stories and some wonderful characters emerge. I particularly loved Tilly, the angry house ghost.

It's no secret that I have been a great fan of Caroline's writing since I first discovered her online. She has a unique voice but, whilst I personally loved her earlier novels, the subject matter was often challenging. In Like Bees to Honey she has achieved the perfect balance, taking the reader on a emotional rollercoaster ride between tears and laughter. The novel covers many important themes - cultural dislocation, the guilt of motherhood, the ambivalence of religion and the power of family to both divide and heal - yet is never didactic.

Caroline Smailes has a background in linguistics, which shows through in her writing. Excerpts of a tourist guide and the use of fancy fonts add depth and additional meaning. The careful placing of words and phrases on the page inserts pauses, while repetition adds rhythm and emphasis. In Like Bees to Honey the repetition of words and phrases of the Maltese language, always translated, add another sensory layer. The reader can hear Malta. And then there are the black-edged pages...

Such devices, if used badly, could be distracting but Caroline Smailes is a clever writer. In her hands they merely emphasise compelling stories, while adding poetic qualities to the spare, readable prose, where every single word has significant meaning. Caroline's writing style is truly individual.

I loved Like Bees to Honey. The handcrafted cover design is enticing and it's a book I know I shall return to over again, even if I never do get to Malta myself.

9 comments:

Kath said...

Lovely review of a fabulous book. I hope you do get to go to Malta one day, and take Like Bees to Honey with you to read in the place which inspired it.

SpiralSkies said...

It's a wonderful book, isn't it? I absolutely loved it, especially the humour. I could absolutely feel Malta oozing from the pages; Caroline is just such a swooningly good writer, isn't she?

JJ Beattie said...

Oh gosh, I must push it to the top of my reading pile.

Cathy said...

Kath - Thank you. I really I hope I get to Malta one day too.

SpiralSkies - It's brilliant, her best yet. I think I'm going to use it as a writing masterclass...

JJ - yes, what are you waiting for!

HelenMHunt said...

Fantastic review of a wonderful book. I have been to Malta and I felt myself back there as I read it.

Karen said...

What a lovely review :o) I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Cathy said...

Helen and Karen, I'm glad you liked my review. I'm always worried that I might not do justice to my favourite books (of which this is now one).

DJ Kirkby said...

I really loved every word of this novel. It is so beautiful. I'd like to go to Malta too.

Cathy said...

DJ, it really is a beautiful book.