The penultimate book I read from this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was the only debut featured – Laline Paull’s The Bees. In the interest of complete transparency, the only reason I left it so long to read it is simply because of the six books that made the shortlist, it was the one that least appealed to me. I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction; and neither sci-fi nor fantasy are genres of books I’d ever usually read, yet the inclusion of Paull’s debut in the shortlist ensured I’d have to read it, whether I liked it or not.
Thankfully – as often happens with books outside of my comfort zone – I was wrong in thinking I wouldn’t enjoy it. Without question one of the most original books I’ve read in recent years, The Bees is a brave debut that tells the tale of Flora 717, a sanitation bee, whose purpose in life is to accept, obey and serve her beloved holy mother, the Queen. The execution of the book is both impressive and imaginative, and from the reception I’ve seen both in print and online, I’m not alone in my new-found fascination for a species that, until recently, I had seldom given thought to.
Regardless of which shortlisted book I enjoyed the most, The Bees was certainly the most impressive; that it’s 2015’s only debt makes it all the more so. A huge accomplishement for Paull, I imagine that irrespective of tomorrow’s result, we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.