I was sent a copy of The Hive by Gill Hornby by Mumsnet for review. It's about the joys of playground politics at a fictional primary school in the Home Counties.
The novel is written from several different perspectives, all of whom are women whose children go to the school. The parents are members of various committees, all with silly acronyms like PASTA. The plot centres around the fact the school committees, the "community" and people helping each other out when they're in need, are actually very cliquey, with people all vying for a place in the pecking order, and ultimately the attentions of the woman in charge, Bea.
This is an easy read; I read it while I was away this weekend, and it was the perfect read for that: not too taxing, easy to follow, no super-long words or in-depth concepts.
I had a slight issue at the beginning, because there are so many characters introduced in the first couple of chapters; it was difficult to tell them apart. In fact, by the end of the book I still wasn't sure of the difference between a couple of them - but I think that was by design. The main ones though, do stand out - and I like the way none of them were miraculously "changed" through the course of the book: the one convinced her son is somehow gifted doesn't suddenly realise he's just a normal little boy but carries on taking him to specialist upon specialist in order to confirm her belief; another spends the whole book fighting to become Bea's right-hand woman, and seems satisfied when she achieves that. A couple of characters do change, but not in some unbelievable, miraculous way - more a sort of coming of age.
I love the way the chapters are set out as per times in the school day: drop-off, lunch time, pick-up. There are aspects of the story that are very cleverly engineered; the prime example of this is one character who keeps bees and spends most of her dialogue explaining how a hive works, and the role of the queen bee (hence the name of the book, the name of the "bad guy," Bea - see?).
For me, this book was a bit pointless. If I hadn't been spending a lot of time sitting on the patio reading (i.e. if I'd been at home, not on holiday), I doubt I would have bothered to finish it. The storyline is clever, but twistless and mostly predictable. I don't feel like my life was enriched in any way by reading it; I didn't learn anything, and the only thing it made me want to learn was why the hell herbal tea is referred to as "a lesbian" throughout the book (the answer, in case you were interested: it's "differently oriented".)
That's not to say the book is bad; it was good enough to hold my interest throughout Friday evening. There is always a place for literature that requires little thought, and I like that the main protagonist in this one is not an airy-fairy, soppy, whiney girl waiting for a knight in shining armour to come and rescue her. The book actually pokes fun at the middle-class mums who turn up for school drop-off perfectly coiffured and bitch about each other in that perfectly-engineered non-bitch.
To me, this book would be perfect for someone going on holiday this Summer, and taking the kids with you. It's the sort of book you can read in small sections without forgetting what's going on or losing your place. Also the sort of book you can look up from to shout "hey Johnny, stop trying to drown your sister" every few minutes without feeling like you've no clue what's going on. A great Summer read that's neither taxing nor boring, rather falling comfortably between the two.