You will laugh. You will cry, but it will be because you are laughing so hard. And then you’ll realize just how awesome this book is. Gill Hornby’s debut novel is, to put it quite simply, an absolute delight.
In her acknowledgments, Hornby notes the influential works of Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads. Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was the inspiration for the hit movie Mean Girls, and focused largely on girls’ friendships and conflicts. It’s easy to see how greatly Wiseman’s research on female relationships influenced The Hive, but that doesn’t mean this is just a retelling of Mean Girls all grown up in England. It’s much more interesting than that. After all, grown up women, and moms in particular, have more tricks up their sleeves than teenage girls do.
It’s the start of another school year at St. Ambrose. While the children are busy in the classroom, their mothers are learning sharper lessons. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power…and how to get invited to lunch.
So the book is essentially divided between several women, some of whom are just wonderful and others who are horrific (BEA). Personally, I’m a big fan of Rachel (her husband has just left her for an intern and now she’s trying to figure out how to “coparent” successfully) and especially Georgie (who I have come to think of as a young Mrs. Weasley – she’s in a very happy relationship with lots of children and a spot-on attitude about punctuation and the use of the verb “juggle”). Other moms include Heather (the one desperate to be accepted by the “cool moms”), Jo (the one with the complicated marriage), Bubba (who reminds me of an actress that I can’t place right now, but I imagine her as big, loud, and absolutely obnoxious – in the best possible way), and, of course, Queen Bea (who is pure evil).
The novel follows a school year at St. Ambrose and from the beginning, the division of and within chapters is priceless. Everything starts on a day that’s somehow important (first day of school, day of the car boot sale, etc.) and then follows it through the timetable of a school day (drop-off, lunch, pick-up). It’s such a brilliant way to divide a busy schedule of the school year into the most condensed calendar possible while still maintaining the thrilling intrigue of each (im)perfectly planned event.
Another thing I loved about this book – Mr. Tom Orchard. He’s the new headmaster, has a mysterious (and possibly celebrity-littered) past, and happens to be very, very single. Of course the mums are going to lock horns over who gets to try for him, but you know for whom you’re rooting, and I freely admit that I was yelling at the book within the first 100 pages about what I wanted to happen. And I must say that I am very, very pleased with that particular storyline’s ending.
I do want to note that there are a few spots in The Hive that aren’t light and fluffy. There’s a suicide, a cancer scare, and some language, but it’s all played out very nicely and appropriately. Not once did I feel that this book was heading toward The Casual Vacancy territory (dark, suicidal, cursing far too much) nor did I think I had wasted my money on a completely pointless fluff piece (like a cheap romance). The suicide, for instance, is very disturbing, especially because of its impact on the children, but it is handled delicately and honestly – the characters allow themselves to be angry, adrift, or emotional wrecks. And the language – it’s not excessive, so when one of the moms cracks and starts spewing some well-chosen expletives, it makes everything even funnier.
Hornby’s writing style is probably what pushed me over the top and made me sure that I loved this book. Her descriptions are fantastic, and the sheer genius of some character-developing moments… wow. To give you a taste, here’s one description of Rachel’s interaction with her mother:
Needless to say, her mother was a devout observer of the opposite persuasion – practically the patron saint of the popping in, and the “Go on then,” and the “Just a quick cup.” It was this sort of profound religious conflict, indeed, that had given relations between them that piquant Arab/Israeli-with-a-twist-of-Northern-Ireland flavor they had been so enjoying these past few months.
And then there’s Georgie’s reaction to messy grammar and messier verb choice:
“Shocking punctuation, as usual – it was A Lunch for Mum apostrophe S.” Her fury was mounting. “And the emoticons. Littered with the buggers. Smiley faces, party blowers, the works.” She flicked her ash onto the grass verge. “One couldn’t be seen dead after that, of course.”
The corruption of the verb to juggle was one of her hates, poor punctuation another. But this was a top-of-the-pops pet hate – grown women describing other grown women as best friends. Mutton employing the semantics of lamb.
(Did I mention I really love Georgie?)
I really don’t know what else I can say to persuade you to read this – it’s funny, it’s sharp, and it’s possibly the most fun I’ve had all year. Some reviews that I’ve read say that it’s full of stereotypes and that it’s cliched, but I feel like that’s kind of the point. Cliches and stereotypes develop based on truth, and when you read about some of these mothers, you can’t help but realize that you know them in your own life.
Don’t put this down as some wildly philosophical book, nor as a complete waste of time – it’s a wonderfully light novel with some deeply thoughtful moments, but mostly, it’s just a hell of a good time.