Here is the Beehive
by Sarah Crossan
In loss, we so often turn to poetry to voice — as valediction and remembrance — the things we, overwhelmed by our grief, struggle to say. To W.H. Auden's Funeral Blues, for instance, or John Keats' To Sleep.
The power of poetry to transgress, to breach our most fraught moments and offer order in the midst of our disorder, is harnessed by acclaimed author, Sarah Crossan in her wonderful first novel for adults, Here is the Beehive. The current Ireland's Children's Literature Laureate, Crossan often writes YA novels in verse that navigates difficult subject matter. Case in point: the spellbinding We Come Apart, about two teenagers finding friendship in the face of adversity.
Here is the Beehive is a heart-rending story about career mother, Ana coping with the death of her lover, Connor. While processing her grief and revisiting memories of their three-year affair conducted in clubs, cafes, hotel rooms and weekends away, Ana balances her strenuous lawyer's job and her domestic life, hubby and three children.
Whether an aficionado of poetry and prose, readers will warm to Crossan's innovative writing style. On the page, it looks like verse, all white space and stanzas. Read it though, and it scans like prose, all full sentences and deep characterisation. Cleverly, the author manages to marry the cadence and brevity of language offered by poetry, with the extensive plot and detail offered by fiction writing. The result is particularly powerful during the frequent instances of dialogue, for the author employs her distinct literary approach to perfectly evoke the repetitions, intonations and pithiness of everyday verbal interactions. Stylistically, the outcome might sound like flash fiction ranged across two hundred and sixty pages; and there's some truth to this. However, perhaps the best literary parallels to Here is the Beehive, style-wise are vignette novels like Jenny Offill's Dept of Speculation and David Leviathan's The Lover's Dictionary.
The other transgressive element to Here is the Beehive that makes it a standout read is its plotting. Whether it's the poetic reduction in the word count with the consequent need to ensure every word used justifies its place in the wider work or the author's longstanding writing of fiction for younger audiences, Crossan is able to unfurl the book's core plot — a woman, a man, an affair and a death — across a novel-length work without the reader feeling short-changed or noticing patchy storylines. Partly this is due to an undeniable skill in pacing but it's also about the use of the poetic eye to haul depth and detail from momentary experience.
Succinct yet profound, lyrical yet accessible, Here is the Beehive is a distinctive contemporary novel sure to have widespread appeal.
— Reviewed by Siobhan Harvey