Telling the Bees
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With echoes of The Remains of the Day, an elderly beekeeper looks back on his quiet life, and the secrets of a woman he never truly knew.
Albert Honig's most constant companions have always been his bees. A never-married octogenarian, he makes a modest living as a beekeeper, as his father and his father's father did before him. Deeply acquainted with the workings of the hives, Albert is less versed in the ways of people, especially his friend Claire, whose presence and absence in his life have never been reconciled.
When Claire is killed in a seemingly senseless accident during a burglary gone wrong, Albert is haunted by the loss, and by the secrets and silence that hovered between them for so long. As he pieces together the memories of their shared history, he will come to learn the painful truths about Claire's life, and the redemptive power of laying the past to rest.
Peggy Hesketh's writing has appeared in Calliope and the Antietam Review, and her short story "A Madness of Two" was selected by Elizabeth George for inclusion in her anthology Two of the Deadliest. A longtime journalist, Hesketh teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California, Irvine. This is her first novel.
- Throughout the novel, we learn many details about bees and beekeeping. Did you enjoy this facet of the book? Did you learn anything about bees that surprised you? Why do you think the author chose to have the protagonist be a beekeeper?
- Consider the protagonist, Albert. What sort of man is he? What is important to him, both practically and philosophically?
- Albert and Claire represent quite different personalities and outlooks on life. Despite their differences, what united them as friends? Whom did you identify with more?
- Claire is a vibrant, shining presence in Albert's life. Her sister, Hilda, though, sometimes fades into the background. What is Hilda's role in the narrative, and to Albert?
- Periodically through the story are references to Claire and Hilda's older brother, who died as a toddler before they were born. How did this event affect the other characters? What importance does it play in the narrative?
- Describe the relationship between Albert and Detective Grayson. Does it change during the novel? If so, how?
- The novel takes place over the course of the twentieth century, as both the landscape and culture around Albert transformed dramatically. In what ways does the time period influence the arc of the story? What did you think about the obvious expressions of Albert's cultural insensitivity as his small world expanded?
- Over the course of the novel, Albert comes to realize how little he actually knew about Claire's life—her ambitions, hopes, and secrets. And yet they grew up together, and he considered her his best friend. What accounts for this gap between what Albert thought he knew and the truth? Was Claire unknowable, or was Albert incapable of understanding her? Or both?
- Why do you think that Albert withdrew into the study of philosophy as Claire matured?
- How did Claire see the world and her place in it? What was it about Albert's worldview that ultimately drove them apart?
- Did learning the truth about Claire's secrets alter your perception of her and Albert? Were you surprised? Did this knowledge change your opinion about the argument that led to a decade of silence between Albert and Claire?
- Are there any events in the book that to you seemed out of the ordinary, even magical? What about to Albert? How do these events relate to a solitary man such as Albert's interpretation of the key players and events in his life?
- In the houses next door to Albert, the residents take on a mythic quality within the neighborhood—first Mrs. Straussman, renowned among her neighbors for her bad temper, and then Claire and Hilda who are known just as the "Bee Ladies." Only Albert has had privileged glimpses into the secret lives that took place within. Are there similar houses, or people, in your neighborhood or town? How might your life look to an outsider?