Tell It To The Bees Review
Fiona Shaw’s Tell It to the Bees is a story of forbidden love in the 1950s - between Lydia, a desperately depressed factory worker and single mother, and Jean - the town’s doctor. The story unfurls slowly, starting with Lydia’s miserable marriage crumbling. Her husband, an alcoholic long infantilised by his sister who raised him, has all the classic markers of a man who has never had to face any kind of a consequence. He’s angry at his wife for loving their child more than him and it pushes them even further apart until he is blatantly dating another woman and then one day, just doesn’t come home.
Devastated by this, all alone with a precocious ten-year-old to care for, Lydia’s depression grips her completely and it’s only the pure love from Jean that brings her back. While the story lacks a little in chemistry to begin with, it more than makes up for it by the end. The tender and gentle way that Jean loves Lydia back to health, the passion the two have for each other, and every hurdle that the pair must tackle together - this is real, powerful love.
Beautifully paced, the story wills you forward without ever rushing into anything - Shaw takes her time with building the characters, creating tension and depth. Like them or not, you get why they are the way they are. There is no villain for the sake of having a villain - even Pam, the ex-husband’s sister-turned-mother may seem like a bad egg, but by the end of the story you understand how hard things must have been for her. Orphaned and left to raise her little brother, then widowed with a young daughter, Pam is a victim of war who thought she was doing what was best for her family. Even though it ends up hurting them all in the end, it was all done out of love - and love is the driving force behind every character in this story.
The most beautiful part of this story is the ending. Set in 1950s England, a happy ending for two ladies in love is about as likely as the sky turning green tomorrow. Yet that is exactly what this story gives you - when I tell you I sobbed reading the last few pages, just know that it’s an understatement. A beautiful, powerful love story between two women, where the girl actually gets the girl, and gets to keep custody of her son and they live happily ever after as a family? While we know this would never happen in real life (and it’s a sad state of affairs that we rarely even get it in books where literally anything is possible), it’s right there, in black and white, waiting for you.
Now, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the film adaptation - but the movie was such a kick in the guts for all lesbians, bisexuals and lady-lovers of all other descriptions. As the end credits rolled, I felt hurt and angry. The author herself has expressed disappointment in the film ending - she was determined that Lydia and Jean would have a happy ending, and that was snatched away by a straight director in an attempt to make the story more palatable for a straight audience.
Don’t watch the movie unless you like cringey CGI bees, Anna Paquin attempting a Scottish accent, multiple unnecessary rape scenes and endings that scream “lesbians don’t deserve happiness”. Out of kindness to yourself and respect to the author, just read the book.
Grab your copy here!