The Hive is the debut novel by Gill Hornby who, incidentally, is the sister of best selling British novelist Nick Hornby. It comes much-hyped as the subject of a fierce bidding war between publishers. The novel’s name is a reference to a bee hive and the story is driven by the doings of the mothers of St Ambrose Primary School who are ruled by their aptly named queen, Bea.
The action is divided up into school terms and centers around the fundraising activities for a new school library. Bitchiness, infighting and power plays abound, heightened by the arrival of a potential new contender for queen bee. The daily gatherings at the school gate are an opportunity to discover who’s in and who’s out of Bea’s favour. Didn’t get a text inviting you to morning Pilates? Well, sorry dear, you’re out. If it sounds like Mean Girls for adults, that’s because it is. Hornby based the book on the same advice manual, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which inspired that movie.
While The Hive was amusing, there were so many characters that none of them really developed much depth. Rachel has been unceremoniously dumped as Bea’s best friend. Heather is working hard to access the inner circle. Bubba is on a career break from a big job in the city, and on it goes. While Rachel was the main point of view character, I didn’t find her especially likable or interesting, so that detracted somewhat from the book’s appeal.
Nonetheless, a car boot sale, a disastrous ball, a quiz night and a series of fundraising lunches offer entertaining vignettes of the women in action. I especially enjoyed the minutes of the fundraising committee meetings. They were enough to scare anyone off joining a P and C. Darker notes are struck when suicide and cancer enter the story but due to lack of engagement with the characters they fall a little flat. A spunky new school principal sets the cat among the pigeons and provides a romantic interest.
Overall, The Hive seems somehow less than the sum of its parts. It was a lightweight and enjoyable social comedy that had a lot of potential, but for me didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, those with an interest in schoolyard politics will certainly find something to enjoy.