Taking a closely considered look at grief and guilt, Here is the Beehive is an enchanting and poetic novel that uses form to unravel the relationship between Ana, Connor and Rebecca. Ana, the grieving ‘other woman’ struggles to come to terms with how to mourn someone whose ‘real-life’ she knew very little about, despite their emotional connection. Crossan displays beautifully the complex nature between Ana and Connor, and the incredible feats that, while grieving, Ana will go to in order to maintain a hold on her lover’s life. We witness the gradual breakdown of Ana, yet she is a difficult character who is not always worthy of our empathy, as Crossan demonstrates.
The first thing that readers will fall in love with in Crossan’s captivating debut adult novel, is the experimentation with form and time. Crossan uses the page to her full advantage, as Ana’s thoughts on how to process her grief and various relationships, unravel. We flit between Ana’s inner monologue, where she attempts to withhold her declining emotional state, and the outside world that she must continue to interact with. The novel also sees us gradually moving back through the initiation and ultimate demise of the relationship between herself and Connor, as we begin to understand more about the complex, somewhat toxic, pull they had on each other.
I loved the way that the story literally danced around the page, with many sections reading as sublime poetry. The space between the sentences really allows the reader to mull over the beauty of the language, and dig deeper into the many ‘un-saids’. Ana’s mind is constantly wandering, moving between past and present, as the form highlights. She is managing two sides of herself, both of which she needs to keep in check in order to maintain the put-together image that others around her will her to have. Like Ana, the reader often feels disorientated and confused, struggling to ground ourselves in the realities of the novel. However, this uncomfortable, unsettling feeling makes for an exciting escapist read. I found myself willing the narrative to stay within the flashback moments, in order to hold on to the intense (though problematic) romanticism between Connor and Ana, even though we understand this is a tale that will end in sorrow.
Problematic relationships are a common reoccurrence within Here is the Beehive, and I enjoyed that Crossan gave a twist to what could have been a traditionally straightforward love story. Connor is by no means desirable or an easily likable character; he seems to bring out the worst in Ana, pushing her feelings of self-doubt to the limits. While there are some enviable romantic scenes between the pair, to me, it felt that much of their relationship was based on toying on each other’s emotions, and seeing just how much they could get away with. This is particularly true when it came to discussions of leaving their partners, providing some of the most heated, impactful moments in the book.
Crossan has deliberately made this relationship hard to root for, far beyond just the simple fact that it is an affair. Ana herself is a narrator who readers will struggle to warm to, as well. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Ana has a number of troubled relationships in her life. She is surrounded by people who are seemingly ‘better’ than her, which she recognises. Her husband is almost too perfect when it comes to childcare; her best friend is outgoing, making a positive lasting impression on anyone they meet; her sister is critical of her life choices, especially when Ana voices her unhappiness. Ana is living in the shadow of these surrounding strong characters, and perhaps this feeling of never being quite good enough is dictating her own, self-destructing, actions.
Of course, the most unsettling and complex relationship comes in the form of Ana and Rebecca. I loved the almost psychotic path the story took with this. The scene where Ana moves through Connor and Rebecca’s family home is spectacular and filled with tension. It’s as if Ana wanted to be caught, for someone to finally realise the role she played in Connor’s death. Within some parts, we almost come to believe Ana’s innocent reasons for wanting to befriend Rebecca, excuses that she continuously tells herself. However, Rebecca is one of the few characters who I felt some kind of empathy for – perhaps the only true victim in this tragic tale.
Ana’s questionable actions and desire to forge a friendship with Rebecca showcase the confusing nature of grief and just where it can lead people, especially when one is forced to keep those emotions under wraps. Unable to mourn publicly, Ana seeks a connection to Connor in this perverse manner, and we later discover how Rebecca came to seek her help in the first place.
However, Crossan also had me questioning Rebecca’s true intentions – did she discover Ana’s relationship with Connor? Is her overbearing, somewhat unprofessional interaction with her, a ‘good deed’ of sorts? While the relationship between Connor and Rebecca is discussed, we only really get Connor’s biased portrayal of it, which Ana suspects is largely untrue. The snippets Rebecca gives into how her and her husband truly behaved with one another left me itching for more detail, eager to uncover Rebecca’s side of the ordeal.
Here is the Beehive is a novel which can easily be devoured in just a sitting or two, but is a story whose unflinching portrayals of grief and passion will stay with you for days afterwards. The strong final visceral images build to a point that almost feels unbearable, as we share Ana’s unravelled state. That lasting image, a tender moment between Ana and her husband, is therefore even more poignant, despite the simplicity of the act and language used. A touching story that weaves beauty into every page.
Here is the Beehive is published by Bloomsbury and is available here.
Sarah Crossan has lived in Dublin, London and New York, and now lives in Hertfordshire. She graduated with a degree in philosophy and literature before training as an English and drama teacher at Cambridge University. Since completing a masters in creative writing, she has been working to promote creative writing in schools.The Weight of Water and Apple and Rain were both shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. In 2016, Sarah won the CILIP Carnegie Medal as well as the YA Book Prize, the CBI Book of the Year award and the CLiPPA Poetry Award for her novel, One.
Reviewed by Mariah Feria
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