This is a weird book. I'm not sure whether I like it or not. It is very well written. But there are a lot of things that show up in this book that,(even after reading it), I'm not sure whether they are metaphors or actual things the characters saw (mainly the Bees and the Mist -- hence the title...) There just seemed to be several things happening that were "magical," but no explanation given as to why those things happened that way, rather than in a conventional way. (I'm sorry if this is vague -- I just don't want to give anything away.) Maybe I'm just being dense or too literal, but I expected a little more.
If you're looking for an unusual book, this is a good choice. I doubt I'll ever forget it.
Monarch Street where Meridia grows up is cold and uninviting, and certainly haunted. Her mother Ravenna, a severe woman in all black, cooks and mutters strange things all day long. Gabriel, Meridia's father, is a cruel and loveless man who spends his nights elsewhere, carried away at night and delivered home at morning by a strange fog. Memories of a scream and flashing light haunt Meridia, as well as the shadows of the house that hold secrets she cannot begin to unveil.
When Meridia meets and falls in love with a boy named Daniel, she relishes the thought of marrying him. Daniel's mother Eve is a bright and laughing woman, larger than life. At the age of 16, after struggling with her father to get what she wants, Meridia is allowed to marry Daniel and moves in with his family on Orchard Street. Her high hopes of having a happy family are soon dashed when it comes to light that Eve is not all she appears to be. Underneath her laughing, boisterous exterior is a cunning, selfish woman, cruel to the people around her and quick to do what will benefit her above the people who love her. It is a constant battle between Eve and Meridia. Eve takes as much money from Meridia and Daniel as possible, keeps them dependent, and says horrible things about Meridia behind her back while committing terrible crimes to her own gain. To make matters worst, Daniel refuses to see anything wrong with what his mother is doing.
So how can Meridia break free of this? How can she gain the independent and support she has craved for so long? And, of course, finally have the loving and stable family that she has also always wanted. Help comes from strange places and magical clues help and hinder her. All the while, Meridia becomes a strong woman, aided by the tight laced nature of her mother and her father's quiet cruelty that is, in fact, loving. The one thing that Meridia refuses to do is back down and bow to Eve, which for a while brings her a lot of grief. But determined to free herself, she runs into all obstacles placed by Eve head on.
I wasn't sure what to make of this story by the description on the back. The first few pages confused me a few times because I wasn't sure if I should understand the setting as an alternate universe or a common universe. And I will admit that some of the descriptions of things and events sort of threw me off-- I wasn't always quite certain of what the author was trying to convey or paint an image of. Still, the story was good enough that even the occasional time of confusion didn't make the book hard to read and ultimately understand. The use of imagery, when not abstract, was really very beautiful and heightened the sense that there was something sublime and magical all around. And there was something wonderfully disorienting about the whole story, which made it dreamlike at times.
What I wish, though, is that Ravenna and Gabriel had their own story! Just as much as I was drawn to the development of Meridia and her character, I was drawn to the complicated relationship between her parents. Maybe I am mentally ill with poor taste in men, but I found myself powerfully attracted to the character of Gabriel. Meridia's parents are so closed off and cold that it made me want to crack them open and see why they behaved the way they do. And, ooooo, Eve is so insidious! So many times I wished I could reach into the pages of the book and strangle her, or knock some sense into the people around her who didn't see her manipulations and selfish lies. Every small and large victory won by Meridia I cheered, and I hurt every time she lost a battle. Eve is definitely a character to hate, but still one that I think readers can understand. All in all, Of Bees in Mist is a wonderfully crafted book of magic and reality, with characters that are well developed and unique. When reading, you clearly feel the workings of unseen forces and malice all around, and you sigh with relief along with Meridia.
Despite my initial resistance, the mysticism of the story captured my interest and pulled me into its magic. The story begins in a shroud of ghosts and unexplained extraordinary circumstances that made it difficult to understand the reality of what the author was trying to convey. Allegorical, metaphorical, symbolic, magical, ethereal.. I was so confused that I almost lost patience with it. I persevered, and as the coming of age story unfolded I was glad I did. I think this is one of those books that you would either really enjoy it, or just not get it, and therefore not like it all. You definitely need to shred the stuanch disbeliever attitude and put on your imaginative and cognitive mask. Some readers may shrink away from a story which is so centered around paranormal things and meant to be read as a fable, which I was leaning towards, but the prose of this novel was so captivating that it was really a magical treat to behold.
The darkness of events of the main characters would chill you to the bone, but in a thrilling nature as you try to unwind the mysteries behind these haunting characters. This is a family saga of which two families are pitted against each other and how they attempt to come to terms with it. It addresses the relationships between a husband and a wife, mother and child, sister to sister, etc. Each family member is fraught with their own flaws and it is interesting to watch them develop throughout the story.
Meridia is a child of Ravenna and Gabriel, who are parents in no sense of the word. Ravenna is lost in a cloud of forgetfulness that she is barely a shadow of a mother to Meridia, and Gabriel seemingly could care less about anyone but himself as mists carry him from the house and back between the days. There are few words spoken, and Meridia is brought up by a nurse until she disappears suddenly. When Meridia goes to school and finally befriends Hannah, the reader is left to wonder if Hannah is even real. Meridia struggles to find the truth behind her existence, the reasoning behind the strangeness of her family and does not get very far with her conclusions as she itches for a way out of the madness of her house and family.
Finally Meridia marries and is thrown into another familial relationship with her in-laws that is not an opportunity for the better. Here we are introduced to the mother-in-law Eva, her incessant grating chatter which are bees pecking and flying about, and the father-in-law Elias who Meridia could not tell if he is someone to be trusted. Meridia finds even more fantastic stories in this house, and wonders if her husband could choose between his mother or his wife.
The magical elements create the symbolic tone, and their relationship to the realities of a modern day struggle between love, family members and the relationships which we create with each other. The women of the story seem to create a war with each other even as the men of the story try to throw their own weight around.
I enjoyed the unique storytelling behind this novel, and it was truly an imaginative debut novel that I could hardly find any fault with the authors imaginary process. Although the rough start almost had me fooled, I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the nature of the family relationship with a surreal twist. This is a novel that can keep you engrossed for hours because of the complexity of the characters, and there is always some sort of mystery going on. The metaphors and symbolism intertwined with the magic forces make this a gratifying read.
This book is so intense!
It is sad and upsetting, but I could not put it down!