Books & Literature

Book Review: Honeybee, by Craig Silvey

LGBTQI+: A heart-breaking, life-affirming novel about identity and friendship in a world of petty thefts, dog rescues and one spectacular drag show.

A true modern Australian classic, with a sting in the tale yet delivering such sweetness.

Craig Silvey’s last novel, the multi-award winning Jasper Jones, was released 11 years ago and has since been reimagined as both a stage production and movie.

Silvey returns with the emotional and emotive powerhouse story of a teen, Sam Watson, whose life is about to begin an extraordinary journey – Honeybee.

On dark Western Australian night, Sam takes himself to an overpass and considers taking the ultimate step. At the other end of the same stretch stands a man, smoking what he believes to be his last cigarette. It is at this moment that the lives of Sam and Vic, the old man, will become inextricably entwined.

Vic is a widower, in failing health and mourning for his lost love, Edie. He is tired and alone and just wants peace. Together, they become a see-saw balance for each other, guiding one another in the reasons to live and, when the time is right, reasons to let go of life.

Sam suffers, literally, with gender dysmorphia, the self-hatred that can go with being locked in a body that defies all reason for the individual. Sam’s self-loathing is challenged through the acceptance that Vic offers and has he explores Edie’s life through a collection of diaries and her closet. This allows Sam to find his true identity.

Honeybee also provides a well-structured background, through flashbacks into Sam’s development and life, leading up to the decision to stand on the overpass. Each of these moments is brought to the fore at a pivotal moment to provide clarity and understanding.

Over the ensuing 420 pages we are also introduced to some of the novel’s most life affirming characters – Peter, a drag queen and nurse; Diane, a psychologist with a unique understanding of Sam’s transitioning life; and Aggie, a teenage fantasy role-playing enthusiast and her family.

These characters are perfectly counter-balanced with the tormentors, particularly Sam’s mother’s boyfriend, Steve, a bitter, angry bullyboy whose torment of Sam provides strength through the most unexpected of circumstances.

Silvey has crafted a narrative at a time of open discussion about transgender identity, filled with emotion and honesty. It is as sweet as honey, but at times, stings. But it is a truly positive, life-affirming pain.

Reviewed by Glen Christie

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2020
RRP: $32.99


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