Publication date: September 10th 2013
There is no shortage of mommy-lit in the world. There are stories (fiction and non-fiction) about nannies, schools, and mothers who work pitted against those who don’t. What is new is Gill Hornby’s debut novel, The Hive, which looks at the uber-competitive world of elementary school from the British mummy’s perspective. St. Ambrose is a school and community that prides itself on its family-like and inclusive vibe but Hornby wastes very little time disabusing us of this cherished belief. The Hive opens at the beginning of fall term and immediately the mothers circle around Beatrice (Queen Bea) who runs the volunteer programs and fund raising efforts, corralling everyone into doing all the work for her but making sure she’s the one who gets the credit.
This is not unfarmed soil but I am always up for British novels because I love their slang (what’s not to love about plonk, car boot, yonks, stroppy?) and there is comfort to be found in a formula. The Hive contains a cast created from the bee world as well as the depressing world of high school—only these are grown women. The slavish worker bees, the lonely chubby girl who only wants to hang out with the popular girls, the renegades who want no part of any of it, and the slutty girls who are now divorced and chasing after the new headmaster. Predictable maybe, but Hornby makes it fun with some characters that have more layers to them than first glance suggests. Plus, the outsider, rude counterparts to all the sycophants have the best lines, making them the most interesting people in the book.
Georgie felt like asking for her ciggie back. It was an investment in the conversation, a cigarette, and she expected some sort of decent return.
The Hive is light fun reading with a cast of characters and a plot to rival the back-stabbing and political maneuverings at any Fortune 500 company. Hornby keeps the action and dialogue moving at a pace that makes this a fun read as the days get shorter and the sunny weather disappears.