I read The Hive in two days. Less, in fact: I bought the book on Thursday morning, on a whim, because my train was delayed and I’d forgotten my e-reader. I finished it on Friday afternoon. If I hadn’t had to work on those two days I probably would have finished it sooner; I’m guessing a good afternoon on the beach would have done it.
That’s basically the best I can say about The Hive: it’s an easy read. It’s also moderately funny.
The writer, Gill (sister of Nick) Hornby (and wife of Robert Harris), was inspired by the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, on which Tina Fey also based her script for Mean Girls. That book deals with high school cliques, but Hornby stretches it to that other semi-voluntary cloud of strict judgement and peer pressure: mums at the school gate.
The book takes place in the small English town of St. Ambrose and the story is mostly viewed through the eyes of four characters, whose children all go to the same primary school. There’s Rachel, a recently divorced mother of two who works as an illustrator; Georgie, a perpetually grouchy mother of four-and-counting who gave up her career in law to care for her children; Bubba, who left her hectic PR job and would like you to know that she was very good at this and isn’t this all just darling, and Heather, mother of Maisie, who is desperate to belong anywhere. They, and others, are all members of a clique centred around the sly, judgemental Bea, who coordinates the efforts to raise funds for a new school library.
The problem with The Hive is that the characters are either flat and uninteresting or entirely unconvincing. Rachel, in the middle of a divorce, has fewer dimensions than a cardboard cut-out; we’re supposed to root for her but at her best, she’s predictable and at worst, she’s whiney. Bea, as the queen bee, is evidently the sort of character we all loved to hate in high school and beyond, but I failed to see her magnetism as she prances about the story, airily handing off tasks while giving off the impression that she works very hard. Heather is just clingy and annoying. The only one I liked was Georgie, brusque and secretly happy, but the internal monologue where she relates how extatic she is with her four children, her vibrant sex life, and her big, sweet, lumbering husband on their messy farm is entirely unconvincing; not because it’s impossible to give up your career and be a homemaker and be happy – it is – but because the monologue doesn’t fit the character. Still, it’s hard to begrudge her as she snaps her way through the clique, toddler on her hip, always in a hurry, her insults and barbs completely ignored.
It’s also remarkably tone-deaf. There’s a scene where one of the characters, the unflappable and implausibly talented Melissa, fences off the Great Unwashed during a car booth sale, who then scarper off looking for bacon sarnies. For a satire, the book is remarkably toothless and lacking in self-awareness.
So would I recommend this book? Well, I had an okay time reading it, so I suppose so. But it’s like fast food: you know it’s bad for you, and it leaves you feeling satisfied for about a minute, but ultimately, it’s not that good and you know it. By putting it on this website, I’ll have it in writing but otherwise, I doubt I would remember this book a year from now.