Monday, January 17, 2011

Book 12: Of Bees and Mist

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

I picked this up based on a staff recommendation display at BookPeople (every other independent bookstore I have ever been in was very small so they couldn't compete with Barnes and Noble for me; between this store and the Alamo Drafthouse, I almost want to move to Texas), and wasn't sure what to expect exactly. The back cover describes it as the story of three generations of women, while the Amazon blurb calls it the story of two families. While these aren't exactly inaccurate, it is really the story of Meridia. Meridia's parents, Ravenna and Gabriel, are so angry with each other that Meridia is rather neglected throughout her childhood. Her father is distant, her mother forgetful, and it isn't until she is sixteen, when she meets Daniel, that she feels loved. The two marry and move in with Daniel's family. At first Meridia is enchanted with his family who appear to be the opposite of her own: loving, caring and attentive. However, as time goes on, Meridia is curious about certain things in the house, and realizes how controlling, manipulative and deceitful Eva, her mother-in-law, is. This leads to an ongoing battle of wills between the women, and Ravenna becomes very helpful to her daughter as she becomes slightly less involved in her own world.

Daniel goes back forth between supporting his wife and believing his mother. I also quite enjoyed Daniel's sisters, and their evolving relationships with their mother and Meridia. One thing that makes this novel stand out from being simply a family drama is the use of magic realism. The coldness that creeps into Ravenna and Gabriel's marriage manifests itself as a physical coldness inside the house which is also surrounded by an impenetrable mist. Eva's constant bickering at her family and husband to bend them to her will is represented by the swarming of bees.

The novel isn't set in any particular time period or town though it seems very turn of the century pre-World War I. While magical things occur, the mists, bees and other things simply symbolized people's feeling and emotions, so I don't think it should be too much of a turn off to people that aren't into magic - in this case, the magical events don't necessarily have to be taken literally, and it's not as if any of the characters actually attempt to cast spells. The characters were wonderfully portrayed and this is probably one of my favorite reads so far this year, and I feel like I've been quite lucky so far with selecting books I enjoy over the past few weeks.

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