Review – Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

This is my first venture into the world of Caroline Smailes and what a magical, ethereal, quirky world it is – I want to move there now!

Firstly, look at that exquisite cover…it immediately brings to mind travel abroad to sunnier climes and a sense of times gone by. Becky Adams has surpassed herself with the cover art.

Of course there’s more to this book than just a pretty face.  Nina, our unstable heroine, is a woman on a mission or even a pilgrimage of sorts.  Having been shunned by her Maltese family since she fell pregnant as an undergraduate in England, she is now returning to her homeland with her son, Christopher but it isn’t immediately apparent as to what she hopes to achieve – reconciliation? revenge? renewal? What is patently obvious though, is that she’s in a state of emotion turmoil and has left behind her husband Matt and other child, Molly, leaving no explanation for her sudden departure.

As the novel unfolds we see Malta as a meeting point for restless souls who have not yet completed the transition to Paradise.  Jesus is frequently to be found hanging out in Larry’s Bar, sporting a variety of different coloured toe nail polish and discussing Reality TV.  No, do not adjust your set…. this does work and yes, there is a lot of spiritual content but it all adds to the lyrical, philisophical tone of the novel without being preachy.  There are some really endearing characters especially Nina’s mother who plays a major role in rebuilding her very brittle daughter, Tilly, a young, erratic English woman and Elena, Nina’s gentle great-aunt.   Never have “dead” people seemed so vibrant!

So far, so meh, you might think – troubled young woman returns to her roots searching for her true identity, for reconciliation, for forgiveness – we’ve heard that story countless times before but, what differs here, is the author’s inventive composition and shaping of the actual text which revitalises everything for the reader.  Now I know that some writers can be too avant-garde for their own good and it’s often a case of style over substance but Caroline succeeds in really engaging the reader, playing around with different fonts, shades, layouts.  The sections devoted to tales of individual souls are edged in black – a very nice touch which reminds me of memorial cards and funeral traditions. There’s so much of the past here yet Nina desperately needs to get back in touch with reality and the present. Indeed, the use of the present tense throughout gives an air of immediacy and pace to the whole narrative.

Malta is another key character in the novel with its history, culture and traditions exercising a major influence on all the characters’ lives.  I loved the frequent inclusions of Maltese phrases and the sounds of this exotic language are complemented by the delicious tastes of Maltese food – I feel like going to Malta right now and having some pastizzi washed down with a bottle of Cisk beer.  It’s a country previously unfamiliar to me but Like Honey to Bees really welcomes you into the Maltese way of life.

So, I think it’s fair to say that I’m smitten with this novel – at times incredibly sad, at times rib-ticklingly funny.  It is a beautiful box of delights with a myriad of themes – belonging, family, identity, love, self-forgiveness, acceptance.   I don’t think many readers will be able to resist its attractions.

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8 Comments

  1. Nik Perring says:

    Thrilled you liked it! I’m sure Caroline will be too!

  2. admin says:

    What’s not to like! I’m now trying to track down her previous books. :-)

  3. Violet says:

    I’ve not heard of Caroline Smailes, but this sounds like an interesting read. I like a bit of quirk in my fiction. Will interrogate the library catalogue. You really are not helping to reduce my TBR list! :)

  4. admin says:

    Violet, I got to know about her via Twitter and a few friends on an online book club had enjoyed her previous novels. Some didn’t like the tinkering around with the fonts and layout etc but I think she’s got the right tone in this novel.

  5. Jenny Wilson says:

    I have heard so many good things about this book

  6. admin says:

    Glad to hear it, Jenny! :-)

  7. [...] of her novels.  I have already read and enjoyed Black Boxes and Like Bees to Honey (reviewed here ) but I think Arthur Braxton might be the one which brings her to a much wider [...]

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