Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Secret Life of Bees

This is a read the book watch the movie post. I recorded the film a couple of months ago but didn't want to watch it until I had read the book. I also have The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Revolutionary Road and The Reader recorded but I just need to also read the books first.

Anyway back to The Secret Life of Bees which is a book that seems to be well loved and a firm favourite of readers in general, it isn't hard to see why. Set in South Carolina during the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees is a gentle coming of age tale about Lily who may or may not have accidentally killed her mother when she was four. Lily lives with her rather bitter and abusive father, and is looked after by one of the black servants called Rosaleen who works on her daddy's land.

When the Civil rights act is put into effect, Rosaleen decides to register to vote and is accompanied by Lily who has just turned 14.
It is here that Rosaleen gets arrested and beaten forcing Lily to act. Now fugitives from the law Lily uses what information she has on her mother and they find their way to the home of three bee-keeping sisters August, June and May.

All the female characters in this book are very likeable and this is a very feminine book. Lily starts to come to terms with what has happened to her and tries to gain understanding of her mother and her place in the world all the while under the gentle guidance of the three sisters. There are also family dynamics in place as the women live, work and share their problems together. The author does a very good job of setting the time and place, most of the story is set during a very hot stifling summer and I could believe I was there and could hear the endless humming of the Bees.

This is a book dripped in sentimentality, despite the darker themes such as mental illness and racial tension the author does not let these issues get in the way of Lily's coming of age story. Unfortunately this also means that something like racial tension does not give the full impact or message it deserves and gives the book a slightly rose-tinted feel.

None of the characters are two dimensional and each have their own flaws (with the exception of August) Lily is 14 years old when this story takes place and sometimes she does act like a child, the servant Rosaleen is sometimes frustrating and the sister June at first comes across as cold and aloof. On the other side of the coin as Lily understands more about her mother, so her father becomes slightly more understanding from the bitter, angry man we seen in the beginning.

The Secret Life of Bees is not a complicated read but it has enough drama to keep a reader interested throughout, it is not a 'powerful' book but it is charming and full of enchanting characters but unfortunately I found it a little sickly sweet and in parts clich├ęd. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a slightly more uplifting read or to take on holiday.

Verdict 3/5

The film – well its exceptionally well cast. Dakota Fanning has that sad, skinny look which I imagined Lily to have and although Jennifer Hudson was a little young for Rosaleen, I think she got away it. Queen Latifah was kindly and wise enough to play August but I thought the stand out stars were Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo playing June and May.

Unfortunately the beginning of the film was far too rushed and Lily's reasons for running away were not fully explained although this could be because Paul Bettany played the father role in a far more sympathetic way than the book suggested. But other elements such as Rosaleen's friendship with May were just as strong as in the book, but this is more to do with the actresses work rather than the script.

Some of the more cheesy elements in the book translated to practically cringe-worthy moments on screen, August telling Lily to 'send the bees love' in order to prevent them stinging her in the book was yes, cheesy. But then having Dakota Fanning chanting 'I love you, I love you, I love you' to the bees on screen looked a little silly.

Other than that not a bad adaptation, the film moved at a very fast speed as it seemed to be desperate to fit all of the plot in. Perhaps some elements of the plot could have been sacrificed in order to keep more of the charm and spirit of the book.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess


  1. Hm...I've never thought I really wanted to read The Secret Life of Bees, because I had heard it was sappy--sounds like I will continue to not read it. :)

  2. I didn't know there was a film of this book. Mind you, I found the book kind of sappy and cliched and didn't really like it much, so I doubt I'll be watching the film anyway.

  3. I'm new to your blog and had a mooch around and have to say, I really like it here. Consider yourself Google Reader-added. :)
    I really enjoyed the film 'The Secret Life of Bees', but haven't read the book, was thinking about it though. I had completely forgotten about it of late, but thanks to your post, I now remembered and shall add it to Mount TBR.
    Btw, I saw that one of your guilty pleasure are Warhammer 40k novels. My boyfriend has read about a dozen of them, plus he plays Warhammer 40k and I constantly have to listen to him tell me how great the books are. I just had to smile at your 'guilty pleasure', is all, thought I'd let you know. :)

  4. I would have thought that I'd like this one, but if the primary themes of the book aren't emphasized enough, I think I'll skip it. Thanks!

    Looking forward to what you think of Revolutionary Road!

  5. I did enjoy reading the book -- a nice summer read. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter were great, I thought. But then you are talking with the Queen Bee. Who knows what secret life I lead (as a recent post points out, I'm much cooler online:)

  6. Zara & Kat - yes it is sappy in places, overal I enjoyed though but if thats not your thing then its best to avoid.

    Susi - thanks for your kind comments :) The warhammer books is Chris's thing (can be confusing when two ppl post on here) I dunno it must be a male thing as he also plays the games. Thankgoodness there isn't a warhammer shop in our town that all I can say.

    Becki - it certainly wasnt as dark as I thought it would be, it was very uplifting but yeah sometimes I thought it was slightly unrealistic. I mean surely a white girl living with some black women and at one point driving around with a black man in town would have raised quite a response (or fists) this is Carolina and the civil act has just been signed.

    Queen Bee - I did enjoy reading the book -- a nice summer read.
    I think that sums it up perfectly, it was an enjoyable read and good to take on holiday I think. Plus I did learn alot about bees :)

  7. I didn't enjoy the book (shoot me now) but had heard the film was much better. After reading your review, I think I'll give that a miss as well.

  8. I quite enjoyed the book, but I can certainly see what you mean about the rose-tinted feel.

  9. Found your blog through the blog-hop. I like this review of The Secret Life of Bees because I didn't care for the sentimentality. So I'm glad that another reader had a similar reaction.

  10. I hadn't really thought about reading the book, but I did want to see the movie. I think based on your review I won't rush to see the movie (even though I really like the actresses in the film). I don't like it when racial issues are clearly part of the time a book/movie occurs and it gets downplayed (Gods and Generals was difficult for me to get through because of this).

    Here is my newest review for the Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge: Storm Front (Book 1 of The Dresden Files)