Ah, the sun. The sun, the sea, the cicadas. What a summer we’re having, and to top it all, a holiday to Crete. All olive trees, rackety Hyundai hire car, buttercream stone, aftersun, feta cheese, and moody looking old women in black hunched in doorways. A delight.
And holiday reading! An opportunity and a pleasure. I had a half-hearted stab at re-reading Middlemarch from the lounger… no go. Not even a starter. Holiday reading is a genre in itself. With this in mind, and my new interest in parenting and kiddies, I thought I’d give a stab at Gill Hornby’s The Hive, which came out about a year ago to an onslaught of publicity and praise. A school-gates tale of the friendships and rivalries between mothers, it would be a light read, sure, but perfect for a holiday?
No. Not really. You may be scorching yourself like a lobster, horizontal 90% of the day, but you are still the same person and your taste doesn’t go out of the window. I found myself thinking – urg. Is this what life comes to? I buy into a vision of fulfilment surrounded by children and countryside and mess as much as the next girl brought up in the Home Counties, but even I baulked at this middle class morass of cliquishness – something the heroines are as guilty of as the evil Queen Bee set. The mothers are occupied with the most shallow of activities, and even those characters who kick back from the circle of fundraising and socialising don’t seem to have a meaningful alternative.
I felt like Hornby was all too aware of potential criticisms at her her depiction of this cloistered little set – the real world of jobs, marital discord, divorce, depression and even suicide are present in the story, but curiously aside from the main action, as are the male characters apart from the obligatory love interest. Even the children are a semi-irrelevance, a prop and a means into the school rather than the chubby little joys of their mothers’ lives.
I think the publishing angle may have been the death of this book – as a chick-lit, italic-titled pot-boiler it does the job. But as a light but witty, nuanced take on twentyfirst century motherhood it leaves plenty to be desired.