Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents.
Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house.
This will be her final chance to make her peace with them.
But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them.
Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them.
And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself.
I've followed Caroline Smailes' blog for several years now, and I am a big fan of her quirky style and imaginative way of marrying her words with briliant typography. Unique is a word that gets bandied around far too much, but Caroline's style, is just that - unique. I can't imagine anyone else writing the way she does, because I don't think anyone else could.
I was lucky enough to attend Caroline's launch party at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green on Tuesday (fans of indy bookshops, please go if you are ever in the Wood Green area, it is fantastic. You can find out all about it here) I had already decided I was going to enjoy Bees, when I read the blurb, but the minute Caroline read out an extract based in Liverpool (like me, she's an English grad from Liverpool), I knew I was hooked.
Actually, the Liverpool connection is a fairly minor one, but that doesn't matter, because Caroline takes us on a journey to Malta (an island I've never visited, but would love to now) that is so vividly haunting, the memory of this book will linger with me for a long time.
I loved the idea of Malta as a transit lounge for the recently departed - when Nina, the heroine visits her mother, she also gets to meet a variety of ghosts, who are there to help her come to terms with the secrets of her past, and to help her find redemption.
This is in many ways a very spiritual book - there is a lot of religion in here -but it's a kind of spirituality that's really earthbound. I loved the depiction of a hippyish Jesus, who paints his toenails because his feet are ugly, and drinks cans and cans of Cisk (Maltese beer -which Caroline kindly provided at her launch party and I can confirm tastes very lovely indeed) to see if he can get drunk (he can't). I loved the character of Tilly - a resentful house ghost, who is very very angry (touchingly we get to learn the source of that anger & see it healed) - but most of all I loved Nina, a woman who has cut ties with her past, and whose grief at what she subsequently believes is a punishment, is blinding her to the possibility of happiness in the future. As Jesus tells her she is caught in a hell of her own making - a hell on earth, which only she can escape.
This isn't always an easy read - there were moments when I was wide eyed with shock at things Caroline's characters revealed, and I wasn't always sure how she'd tie everything up. But as she deftly draws the strands together at the end of the book, I was completely transported, greedily devouring each page, unable to bear coming to the end. Mostly nowadays, when I read a book, lack of time means I rarely get to reread it, and often I'm not drawn back to it gain. Like Bees to Honey is such a thoroughly absorbing, and alluring read, that I am sure it is a book I will return to time and time again, because it's the kind of book that grows and ripens with each rereading.
I loved it. I'm sure you will too.
I loved it. I'm sure you will too.
To celebrate the fact that Caroline and I shared our publication day yesterday, I am today giving away a signed copy of Like Bees to Honey to the person who comes up with the wittiest idea for a holding station for dead people. Particularly if you can tell me why.
Competition runs till midnight on 31 May. Please leave comments on my blog below.
Caroline is doing the same with The Bridesmaid Pact, so if you want to win a copy of that, hop over here now!