As an estate lawyer, Ana Kelly can deal with death. But nothing could have prepared her for the call from Rebecca Taylor, explaining in a strangely calm tone that her husband Connor was killed in an accident. Ana had been having an affair with Connor for three years. This is the author's first adult novel.
Adulterous affairs, with all their secrecy and thrill and inevitable fallout, are hardly an unmined seam in fiction. So it’s all the more impressive that with this, her first novel for adults, award-winning children’s author Sarah Crossan has not only found what feels like a whole new spin, but has managed it in verse. Here Is the Beehive is a gutsy, modern, deeply entertaining and, at times, faintly subversive-feeling piece of work. It’s also entirely and likably original in its execution, quite unlike anything I’ve read before ... it has all of a novel’s weight, breadth and tension, while at the same time slithering down the page with the sly spareness of a poem ... Crossan’s depiction of Ana’s interior state – tense, vulnerable, always teetering just on the edge of destructive – is appealingly unsentimental, almost disconcertingly frank at times. If I had a minor criticism, it might be that neither of the lovers ever quite seems fully to exist outside of the affair. We know all about their clothes and glasses of wine and the way they speak to and touch each other, but there’s a sense that not much lies beneath, as if, despite their spouses and jobs and children, neither is psychologically or physically rooted in anything other than the next stealthy rendezvous ... And perhaps that’s the point. But it doesn’t help that, while Ana is criticised by her husband for being a too often absent or disengaged mother, it’s sometimes hard for us to believe that she’s a mother at all. Writing about (rather than for) children does not seem to be Crossan’s strong suit and it is difficult to imagine that Ana ever gave birth to these two, let alone that they are also a little too quiet and cute ... Still, it’s hard to mind when the writing is so bright and alive and the novel is a triumph – crackling with psychological and sexual ambiguity – in its descriptions of a man who, all too depressingly believably, has zero intention of leaving his wife.
Before you think 'A novel in poetry? Hard pass!' give Crossan’s free verse a try. It flows as easily as honey, eliminating much of traditional narrative’s necessary blather. And it accomplishes a stream-of-consciousness feel that conveys both how quickly grief can shatter a person and how those shattered pieces still connect ... Some readers may experience slight confusion with Ana’s narration, because she speaks to Connor as if he’s still alive, reeling between past and present as it suits her. However, once you’ve absorbed Ana’s dilemma, you’ll understand Crossan’s purpose. Ana continues to work, to meet friends, to care for her children, to spar with her husband, Paul, all while she’s falling apart inside. Was the affair worth all that? Is any affair? The conclusion comes as a surprise and shows Crossan to be as thoughtful a novelist for the grown-ups as she has been for young people.
From the opening stanzas of Here is the Beehive it's clear that Crossan understands the level of distillation that verse requires. Her protagonist's voice is immediate and distinctive. Within a few pages - using very few words - she establishes the backstory and plot ... Addressing Connor directly in the second person, she is also, of course, talking to herself, so her digressions and splintered memories make perfect sense. It can feel subversive, transgressive even, when she gives voice to the darkest parts of her psyche ... Crossan writes in snapshots, paring Here is the Beehive down to its essentials. While this creates momentum it also means that certain characters and relationships are underdeveloped...Rebecca remains elusive, refracted through the prism of Ana's jealousy and hurt ... Although Ana's mental health is faltering, there is a suddenness to some of her more unhinged behaviour that feels out of step with the rest of the novel ... There are difficulties too with some of Crossan's stylistic choices. Her use of one- and two-word lines can give individual words and phrases an emphasis they don't necessarily merit. Clipped lines and sentence fragments cut up the text, drawing attention to themselves and the form, interrupting the narrative ... The fragmentation reflects Ana's fragmenting mind but the reader is frequently invited to pause or to linger on lines that might fit better within a body of text ... Despite this, Here is the Beehive generates its own momentum. Its core strength is its depiction of an imperfect mother and wife, defying traditional expectations of women while wrestling with her own self-sabotaging behaviour; Ana delays mentioning her children for so long that when she eventually references them it is unclear who they are ... a distorted love poem as well as the story of a woman finally confronting herself.