Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
There is a much used quote of Leo Tolstoy’s from Anna Karenina: -“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is particularly true to the two chronicled in this novel.
Firstly we meet Meridia. Her mother Ravenna had nearly died giving birth to her, and her father Gabriel never forgave her for being a girl. Her father and mother have barely spoken to each other since, and the atmosphere in the house is arctic. Her father holes up in his study and her mother rules the kitchen. Her parents’ displeasure at each other is personified by coloured mists that encircle the house.
Then one day Meridia meets Daniel and they fall in love. Time to be introduced to his parents – Elias the jeweller, and his wife Eva. Eva is an elemental force and when she’s wound up, the bees buzz all around. When she and Meridia meet, it’s obvious that it will be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immoveable mountain. Eva tries to micro-manage every aspect of Daniel and Meridia’s lives together. Meridia is strong however, and is able to hold her own against her conniving and manipulative Mother-in-law.
The novel is set in an old-fashioned town which feels hot and Mediterranean – there are no cars or telephones – but there is a cinema, and life revolves around the marketplace where much bartering goes on. The three women rule this novel. Of the menfolk, Daniel and Elias appear rather timid and doormatish, letting Eva get away with far too much. Gabriel has pushed his emotions so far down, he could be an Easter Island statue – only Ravenna can stand up to him and it’s driving her mad. They all have secrets, and it’s Meridia’s job as matriarch of the next generation to work out what is behind both families’ strangeness. But will that knowledge help sustain or corrupt her own new family?
While, at over 400 pages in hardback, the book was too ong and I got fed up with most of the characters some of the time, I did have to keep reading to see if Meridia would get to the bottom of her parent’s cold war; to see if she could outwit the scheming Eva; amd most of all to see if her relationship with Daniel would survive. It has been billed as a fairy-tale, but the magic of the bees and mists is essentially incidental to the family drama within. An engrossing debut. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme, 7/10)