For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Honey Thief

Posted on: January 31, 2010

The Honey Thief, by Elizabeth Graver, Harcourt, 1999.

I like my novels to be well-written, to speak to the pathos and grandeur of the human condition and human relationships,  and to tell a compelling story. Graver’s The Honey Thief excels at the first two, but the story itself was just alright.

The Honey Thief is the story of 11-year-old Eva and her mother Miriam, who move to the country after Eva gets caught shoplifting. The lonely girl meets Burl, a bachelor beekeeper who becomes her friend. They find in the bees and in each other a respite from their loneliness. The novel unfolds, in bits and pieces, the backstory of Miriam and Eva’s father Francis, Burl and his lover Alice, and Eva’s childhood.

Graver’s writing demands a slow reading, as she packs her prose with rich descriptions of the subtleties of human interactions and emotions. The imagery and descriptions of the bees’ activity form a metaphorical framework for much of the character development, and Graver handles this with a gentle touch that invites comparison without being heavy or pedantic. The book is filled with glimpses into the psyche and motivations of various characters, and Graver gives beautiful expression to their experiences of self-doubt, fear, awkwardness and love. The characters were likable and believable, while still feeling otherworldly.

I only wish her character and word power had been accompanied by a better plot. The backstory revealed in pieces throughout the novel was interesting, but not compelling, and the events taking place in the present of the novel seemed haphazard and disconnected. The plot did not seem to advance the characters or their relationships with one another, and sometimes seemed to get in the way. Maybe that’s what Graver was going for–describing the way life happens at random. But I don’t think so.

I enjoyed reading this book, but usually I find I can’t put a novel down once I’ve started it. This one never really captivated me in that way. Yet, it was beautiful, and for that I am grateful.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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