Telling the Bees

Telling the Bees

by Peggy Hesketh


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A lifelong beekeeper, Albert Honig is deeply acquainted with the ways and workings of the hives. He knows that bees dislike wool clothing and foul language; that the sweetest honey is made from the blooms of eucalyptus; and that bees are at their gentlest in a swarm. But Albert is less versed in the ways of people, especially his beautiful, courageous, and secretive friend Claire.

A friend and neighbor since childhood, Claire was a hovering presence—and then a glaring absence—in Albert’s life, a change that has never been reconciled. When she is killed in a seemingly senseless accident during a burglary gone wrong, Albert is haunted by the loss. In the aftermath of this tragedy, he is left to piece together the events of their lives to attempt to make sense of their shared past and the silence that persisted between them for a decade before her death. What Albert comes to learn is that Claire’s secrets were far darker than anything he could have imagined...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425264881
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 328,180
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.87(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Peggy Hesketh’s writing has appeared in Calliope and Antietam Review; her short story “A Madness of Two” was selected by Elizabeth George for inclusion in the anthology Two of the Deadliest. A longtime journalist, Hesketh teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California, Irvine. This is her first novel.

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Praise for Telling the Bees
“[A] stately and beautiful novel . . . Only a superhuman reader will be able to resist foraging through the house looking for that half-eaten jar of honey.”—Carolyn See, Washington Post
“Elegantly crafted . . . While readers are likely to find themselves longing for a plate of buttered toast and honey, there’s nothing ‘cozy’ about Telling the Bees—it’s downright gorgeous.”—The Christian Science Monitor
Elegiac in its tone, Telling the Bees is a quiet, meditative novel, dressed up as a murder mystery, but more geared towards examining the intricacies of the human condition and the power of secrets when voiced than in identifying who killed Claire. As Albert slowly sifts through his fragile memories of the past, patient readers will be rewarded with a rich story that softly stings and is utterly unforgettable.”—BookPage
Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Hesketh’s debut explores family secrets and end-of-life reflections. The author’s exceptional storytelling skills allow us not only to understand Albert’s feelings, but to experience those emotions right along with him. Readers in search of a heartfelt, thought-provoking novel will find what they are looking for in this journey through the life of an unassuming apiarist who knows more about his reclusive neighbors than anyone could guess.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Elegiac in its tone, Telling the Bees is a quiet, meditative novel, dressed up as a murder mystery, but more geared towards examining the intricacies of the human condition and the power of secrets when voiced than in identifying who killed Claire. As Albert slowly sifts through his fragile memories of the past, patient readers will be rewarded with a rich story that softly stings and is utterly unforgettable.”—BookPage
“In her invention of the singular Mr. Honig (and his life, from an early age) Hesketh has created a stubborn and enigmatic and duplicitously withholding character whose life story is nonetheless told richly, in turns melancholy, exhilarating, sociological, with a murder mystery and a deep appreciation for the stories we all construct for ourselves and for others.”—OC Weekly

"A story of shared history, secrets of omission, and revisited memories, Telling the Bees is nostalgic and hauntingly poetic.  Richly detailed and sparsely populated, Hesketh's debut novel relies on Albert's depth of narration and an enlightening amount of apiology.  Reminiscent of the work of Karen Joy Fowler and Peter Orner, Telling the Bees reminds readers that even quiet hives are deceptively active."—Booklist

"Telling the Bees is a marvel. With infinite compassion and perfect pitch, Peggy Hesketh has written an American classic: the inadvertent examination of a life unlived, told by the 80-year-old beekeeper who didn't live it. It's a wonderful read for anyone who loves a great and unforgettable story told well."—Elizabeth George, New York Times-bestselling author of the Inspector Lynley series
"What a wonderful novel!  The voice is so masterfully done, the mysteries of life and death so compellingly evoked.  But best of all is the way Telling the Bees reminds us that even the quietest life will still hold its full measure of drama and passion." —Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times-bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

"In Peggy Hesketh's poignant debut novel, Telling the Bees, the lasting effects of long held secrets is at the core of beekeeper Albert Honig's otherwise quiet world.  In the twilight of his life, Honig is haunted by the past memories of his long-time neighbors. Rich in detail, Hesketh has crafted a thoughtful, compelling story of loss and regret and the unforeseeable consequences that come when the truth is finally revealed.  A wonderful read." —Gail Tsukiyama, author of A Hundred Flowers

"Telling the Bees is a charming tale of a bygone era evoking the power of the past to influence the future. Hesketh's ability to create an evocative narrative will leave readers eager to read more by this talented writer."—Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon's Oak and Finding Casey

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Telling the Bees 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Telling the Bees is a novel to be read slowly. Hesketh writes with a patient, careful eye to detail. Be mindful of the words of Albert, the protagonist. "Quick answers are not always the same as the right ones. I find that the truth I seek is most often apparent to me when I take the time to listen." This is a book of unspoken secrets and deep concealed love. The mystery of this book spins and spirals into cobwebs cocooned in memory. Listen, and you will be given insight into the true mystery. Listen, and what will you find? A panoramic view of the human heart. The novel is told through the eyes of the protagonist, Albert, who possesses the same quiet, predictable nature as his bees. Many people are afraid of bees; Albert is fearful of people. He attributes to his bees a human-like nature: their intricate social order and seasonal predictability. Deeply tuned to nature, bees are his family and his blueprint for how to live. His life is focused on contemplating human social structure vs. that of bees. "Beehives, like any human household, have a temperament every bit as distinctive as the dominant personalities that reside within." Early in the book, Albert is invited to tea at his neighbors house, where he meets Claire--his one true love. Drinking his tea from a gold leaf cup, one feels a foreshadowing of his future, as if the tea leaves left behind have fated him to a distant and everlasting connection to Claire. Later on, Claire unexpectedly leaves Albert to go to a destination she won't reveal; he pleads with her to tell him her secret. Claire refuses--she knows that Albert is unable to keep a secret if it forces him to lie. However, during this exchange, we see the first overt emotion Albert displays when he asks, "But why, Claire?" He thinks to himself, "If I were as divorced from my feelings as Claire claimed, why could I not conjure up a single logical reason to persuade her to stay? Why did I feel as if there wasn't enough oxygen in all the world to fill my lungs?" She goes on to say, "Haven't you ever wanted to see the world, Albert?" He replies, "All I care about in the world is right here with me." It's not hard to deduce that he's referring, in part, to Claire. And again, later on in the story, ". . . I could imagine myself Claire's heroic rescuer--her knight in shining armor who stood up for her when no one else would. But what I allowed myself to imagine, and what I could realistically be expected to act upon, were to entirely different matters." Here begins the secrets, lies, omissions, truths, and shades of gray that are at the heart of this novel. After Albert finds Claire and her sister dead (The Bee Ladies) in their house, Detective Grayson appears on the scene and initially has only a reticent connection to Albert. They start getting closer when Albert recognizes that the detective has the same careful eye to detail, the same reflective, conflicted personality as Albert. Both feel a sense of duty to do the right thing. Albert believes he lives by the Good Book--again, no room for secrets or lies or sins of omission. However, Albert is able to keep secrets from the detective, all in an effort to protect Claire, the one valiant thing he can do for her after her death. "When I thought for a moment of all the things I should have said or done in my life, all the real and imagined crimes of commission and omission, and all the reasons and regrets I had accumulated in the face of everything that had gone before, I could not help feeling this on small silence was the very least of my transgressions." Pay attention to the philosophical quotes spread throughout; you will see that Albert tries to understand human nature via his books. He's read the dream-team of philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately they are words on paper and exude only logic, not the emotions necessary to understand human interaction. He feels a kinship to St. Augustine; the comprehensive point being that Augustine applied philosophical analysis and reasoning to the issues of religion. Mere belief without questioning and seeking the truth were not sufficient for a genuine faith. Augustine quotes, "We are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone." Albert states,"There are some things philosophy can't teach you." And later in the narrative, "Truth, I was forced to conclude, is an elusive science at best and philosophy is the cold comfort we take in our doubt." Claire's ultimate frustration with Albert is that he resists any kind of change, leaves no room for the unexpected, and trusts only reason. He cannot step out of his faithful safety zone, while Claire understands that change is an undeniable reality. The fundamental difference between Albert and Clair is that Clair has a zest for life that Albert cannot seem to grasp. She states, "I'm the ship, you're the mooring." Toward the end of the novel, with the detective asking ever more questions, Albert finally admits, "The truth is often quite different from the facts." Albert's not so solid world is beginning to crumble. Albert does not realize, until it's too late, that he's lived with an unbearably pious life, and through his memories, his love, he begins to shed his skin and admit that he might have been less than he should have been. His vision is also a flashback to what he could have had. "And so I am left with nothing but memories." He gazes at the moon, and imagines Claire to be Artemis; he gazes at the stars every night, thinking of Claire. The stars are as cold as he was to Claire, and as distant as Claire to him. We can't always be what we want to be, what we wished we could be.... This story is tells of lovers that only meet in dreams of a past light, but a light so bright it will cast an ethereal glow over the rest of his life. Describing a dying hive, Albert says, ". . . The Circle is broken, the order of the hive abrogated, and, for all the best intentions in the world, the colony dies. But it does so slowly and insidiously . . . the doomed hive falls into what can only be described as a state of deep despair . . . the lifeblood of the hive, those who are left to grow old and die, alone and unmourned, take to standing about the entrance of the hive and staring lethargically out at the world they no longer care to partake of on any significant level.The are, for all intents and purposes, dead long before their wings stop beating."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Released only on March 7th, I'm still just shaking my head at what a good read this book is. Great writing, can't put down pacing, terrific characters, deep emotional life, these are just some of the reasons you need to go out a buy a dozen copies and give them (all but one) to your loved ones so that you can share the experience. NOT TO BE MISSED!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW! What a great novel. Great characterization. Interesting plot. Unusual setting. Do not miss this book. A+++ job. This desires an award.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She seems the most eloquent, and though that seems like a trick, it is always will be helpful furthe on in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I vote for her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Go Queen Quicktite!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please make her queen!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For the win!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"So, what about the voting?" Atahlia asked. <br> "How will we do it and who will collect the votes?" Ameli clarified. <br> "Me!" All six princesses yelled at once. <br> "How about I collect the votes, you make speeches and tell your hive, and I will anounce which princess got the most votes." I volunteered. <br> &#356<_>ika glared. <br> "What a splendid idea!" Quickite purred in her slimy trickster voice. <br> I didn't realize how many votes I'd be collecting. <p> I sat down with the group. The princesses were about to give their speeches. Medlia was first. <p> "Unlike my sisters, I analyze the situation and think it over. I will think before acting, and can control my anger and emotions. If you are an ocean of sadness, a valcano of anger, or a cliff of fear, how can you ever expect to see a flower bloom? I will show you all the truth to real happiness, so vote for Queen Medlia!" <p> Next was Ameli. <br> "If you vote for me, we will become peaceful and kind, and unite all the bees. We will be the nicest of all hives, and we will prosper! Remember to vote Queen Ameli." <p> Then ce &#356<_>ika. <br> "We will crush the ennemies under my mighty wrath! Destroy them with my battlefeild skills! We will become the center of all hives, the great and mighty, led under Queen &#356<_>ika! Vote for me!" <p> Then Rosy stepped up. <br> "Under Queen Rosy's rule, we will become orderly and truthful, not mishmash chaos like my sisters, and we will be admired by all the hives of the BYworld! Remember, vote Queen Rosy, and you will vote for the best of them all." <p> Now Atahlia stood. <br> "I know you are all loosing honey, and the poorest families are becoming hungry and sad. This will not do. If you vote Queen Atahlia, I promise to raise everyone's payments by an entire honeycup!" <p> It was Quickite's turn. <br> "War. Wisdom. Food. Freindship. This matters very much, but none is possible without education! Think about it, if you cannot learn to be a warrior or gather food, you can't do it! If you do not have common sense, you cannot be wise. If you do not go to learningplace, you won't get freinds! So vote for Queen Quickite and have a leader with a great name and I will come in peronally, once a day, to teach a special class!" <p> (Which one would you vote for?)
MissoulaMT More than 1 year ago
When you finish this book you will find that you won't even want to start another book for several days - as you want to continue having these characters in your life. Exceptional writing, style, and character development. This one will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
CMKmom More than 1 year ago
This is a story about people - but the person telling the story likens it all to how bee hives run and relate to their environment. This book has some of the most beautifully written sentences I have read in a long time. I went back and reread some parts just for the beauty of their construction. We follow the characters from their childhood to old age, we feel as if we know these people on some level. This is a story without cliches, without "wiseguy dialogue" and surface unnecessary words - just a compelling story beautifully written. One of the few books I have read lately that I will definitely reread.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
k_j_9_7 More than 1 year ago
The story is good.  The facts about the bees get boring, and I found myself skimming over them, but I understand that that's how Albert relates to the world.  I felt like there wasn't really any conflict, you were just experiencing Albert's memories along with him.  There were many touching parts to this book but I found some of it very predictable.  All in all, it's an okay book, but not something I'd read again.