She’s sitting sobbing in Paddy’s Wigwam (the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathederal of Christ the King) when Father Sam says:
‘We have choices in life, Nina. You are clearly distressed. You are living in a hell of you own making.’
He instructs Nina to go home to Malta and speak to her parents, which she promptly does, taking her son Christopher with her.
However, when they arrive in Malta, home is not entirely as Nina remembers it, home appears to be a holding place for the recently deceased and her son can see and speak to them. As Christopher begins to help the spirits, they begin to help Nina come to terms with her past.
The genius of this book is that some of the spirits have issues that they need to exorcise from their own pasts in order for them to move on too. This leads to many comical scenes. By the time Jesus makes his entrance with a passion for Cisk beer, ruby red toenails and a desire to ask questions about Paul O’Grady you, the reader, will be laughing and possibly getting the message that he’s there to share.
At this point I felt so engaged with Nina’s character that I was turning the pages mumbling ‘listen to the man and stop arguing with him’ with a huge grin on my face.
Caroline Smailes uses different fonts, text sizes and regular paragraph breaks to engage the reader emotionally. For example, in one scene Nina is in the airport listening to a coffee machine brewing. The sound of that machine, the whir, is written in italics, repeated and staggered line by line down the page in gradually deeper shades of grey to black ending in ‘~wh – wh – irrr’. This written impression of being ground down was great way of illuminating just how depressed Nina’s mind is. It gives the reader a sense of how detached she is feeling from life and that she is slowly sinking into a dark place. Every now and then her subconscious jolts her, these moments are also written in a contrasting text, but in a smaller font size, leaving you with the sense that it’s a whisper, something that’s trying to push its way through to the surface of her mind.
References to Malta are scattered throughout the book, from chapter numbers written in Maltese to folklore, facts and traditional recipes, these all help the reader to develop a sense of the country and understand why Nina feels as deeply as she does.
Like Bees to Honey is wonderful, it’s imaginative and unusual. It’s a book about love, life, death, grief, acceptance and forgiveness, written with heartfelt warmth, humour and a sensitive understanding of human nature. The key message here is that death may not be the end, you may take your problems with you, so why not deal with them while you’re alive. It’s a book about choices, a reminder that we will always have them however dark the path of life becomes.
Published by Friday Fiction
I bought my copy from Waterstones Nottingham.