Published by Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: June 21st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Tess Müller hasn’t spoken in six months. Her mother, Evangeline, pushes a pram around all the time. Her younger sister draws trees and more trees. In most places they would stand out, but in the Australian town of Bidgalong strange is a relative concept. For decades the hills near the town were home to a cultish commune known as The Hive with its alpha male leader claiming to be a healer and prohibiting all outside contact. Tess’s mother was born and lived there until she was eighteen when the entire commune burned to the ground, a time in her life she can’t remember. The commune, Tess’s silence and Eva’s unusual behavior are just a few of the mysteries found in Mireille Juchau’s novel The World Without Us.
Tess’s silence is less of a mystery and more of a choice, coinciding as it does with the death of her little sister Pip. Since then her father has withdrawn into their farm and his beekeeping and her mother’s behavior has become even more erratic. Their grief has separated them and Juchau uses it as the stepping off point that leads each in a different direction. That she does so with sensitivity gives The World Without Us a tenderness not expected from such a challenging environment. The same can’t be said for the townspeople, whose sly gossip about a secret involving her and her mother, swarms around the quiet Tess, while the truth is locked inside her mother’s head.
Juchau contrasts the backstory of the commune’s cohesion with the current fractured aspects of Bidgalong—increased drug use for depression, growing colony collapse disorder in what was once a thriving bee population, corporate pressure destroying the environment through fracking. The Hive had its own secrets, but the simplicity of its principles and its design succeeded the way bees do. After it was gone each member was forced out into the modern world and what held them together started to pull them apart. In this way, the chaos and disappearance of the bees’ colonies is a eerie microcosm of the human world around them.