Monday, June 22, 2009

Of Bees and Mist

Of Bees and Mist, a debut novel by Erick Setiawan, has been labeled as a fable that chronicles the lives of three generations of woman under one family tree. A fable it is. There are magical elements peppered throughout the novel – staircases that grow and shrink depending on the emotional state of the climber, mirrors that reflect one's true self, etc.... Additionally, there is symbolism galore. The two major symbolic elements being the bees and the mist. At first, this is a unique twist to the same old story – unloved girl meets boy, falls in love, gets married, clashes with mother-in-law, etc... - ; however, as the novel progress, the incessant droning of the bees became too much for me.

At the core of this novel lies a severely dysfunctional family. Love is either non-existent or couched in falseness. Yes, there is first love and the attempt to really love but, I think it falls flat and is not really accomplished.

I was also disappointed in the ending. Namely, with regards to one of the recurring characters. I do not feel that we, the readers, truly understand what she was meant to represent. I was fortunate to read an advance copy of this book through the Barnes and Noble First Look program and participate in an on-line discussion with the author. From that discussion, I expected an outcome to this loose end. Sadly, I didn't get it.

On a positive note, Mr. Setiawan provides vivid descriptions of each locale and develops several of the characters to some extent. I say several because, as in real life, some things never change. His use of imagery is nice.

If you enjoy magical realism or are interested in discovering a new voice in the literary world, you may want to read this novel; otherwise, go away from the mist.

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