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Book Club No. 4

Long time no see fellow book worms! I have been so rubbish with updating NB on what I have been reading lately so I thought it was high-time I rectified this mistake. Since my last Book Club post, I have read several different things but two books particularly stood out to me so I thought I better mention them and they are: Philip K. Dick's The Man in The High Castle and Laline Paull's The Bees - two very different books but both excellent fiction stories that you can sink your teeth into.

The Bees
So I'll start with my favourite of the two, The Bees. First can we just take a second to appreciate that cover!? When I first picked this up in the book shop it was 100% the cover that drew me in. It's a really nice book to have displayed on a bookshelf or a coffee table as it's such an arty piece in its own right but now, now let's talk about what's inside. You'll be forgiven for thinking this might have something to do with Nicholas Cage being his usual bad actor self but you'll be pleased to know it is Nic Cage free but full to the brim with yep, you guessed it, bees. Now I know this will sound silly, but when I read the blurb it sounded like this book would actually be about people i.e. humans in a sort of hive/hierarchy society but after the first page of the book I realised nope, this story is definitely about bees as in the flying insect. It was like nothing I have ever read. Getting to grips with it following the life and happenings of a bee as appose to a human character was new for me and was so interesting to get my head around because of the way the story is written. The story begins with the "birth" of the main character the book follows - Flora 717 - who, as you read on, you discover is not like the rest of the bees. Paull's storytelling is incredible because she manages to make it so obvious that Flora 717 is different but in such a subtle way. The character has the personality traits and acts upon things like a human so the story still flows easily and is easy for the reader to follow.

Like I say every time I do these posts, I don't want to spoil the story for you, but this book is so unique and different to anything I've ever read. Not only is the story quite gripping and makes you want to read on and suddenly makes you lose several hours of your day, it's also very educational and heart wrenching. I absolutely love bees (so much so I got one drawn on me for life) but this book presents the reader with information about the different types of worker bees, the hive mentality, how bees interact with one and other but also with their Queen of the hive, and more! Its very informative in a subtle way as facts are displayed as just part of the story so you absorb the information without being bored or overwhelmed by it. As you digest this information, I feel that the story really pulls on the heartstrings for us as human beings. Not only does the story deal with instances that we as people are likely to experience in our lives, it also makes the reader aware of how important bees are to our environment and our world and makes you think twice about how we treat them and how we farm them for honey. If you couldn't tell already, I really recommend this book if you're after something that's a little different, that is an adventure, and that is just good fiction that really makes you think and question things. You can pick up a copy of The Bees here for approx. £6.oo!

The Man in The High Castle
Now this next one you are probably familiar with due to the popular Amazon TV series, The Man in the High Castle. The TV show is based on Dick's original 1963 story which presents an alternate history to the one we globally have where at the end of World War II, the Germans and Japanese in fact won the war and take over the US and create a totalitarian government and society. The story takes place in 1962 - fifteen years after the war - and mainly follows a cast of characters from Robert Childan who is an Americana antiques shop owner living in a Japanese-owned district, to Frank Frink who is a man trying to keep his Jewish identity a secret, to Julianna - Frink's ex wife - who is in an odd relationship with an Italian truck driver. I know, it all sounds insane but it totally works. All of these main characters and more are littered throughout the story but a main theme tying them all together is a novel in this alternate world, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which depicts the a world similar to the one we actually live in today - a world where the allies of the US actually won the war. The characters are of course intrigued by this as Dick hints throughout the story that the majority of them are not happy or comfortable with the state of the German/Japanese government.

Another common theme worth mentioning that Dick drew a lot of inspiration from is I Ching. I would be here for days explaining what I Ching entails so I'll leave a wee link to a wiki page explaining it in more detail here, but it is essentially an ancient Chinese divination text which is used in conjunction with cleromancy. This produces random numbers which are turned into a hexagram which can then be checked in the I Ching book and the interpretations given in the books for the various number sequences/hexagrams are used by people as a moral compass or some moral guidance. A little bit confusing huh? It makes sense when you read about it however before I talk a little bit more about the book itself, if you're interested in reading The Man in the High Castle, I would recommend doing a little light homework on I Ching just as it makes understanding the story a little easier as I Ching is quite central to the development of the plot and characters.

If you're not familiar with Philip K. Dick's work, he tends to write in a way where he assumes the reader will play catch-up as they read in other words, his novels don't explicitly explain anything. So the likes of I Ching may need to be read around and researched a little but things like the terms he uses in characters conversations (e.g. racial slurs) might be things you just have to remember and learn as you read the story. Although those sorts of details make it a slow burner of a book at the start due to creating a bit of friction for easy reading, I did really enjoy this book. As it's not a very long novel, I got through it fairly quickly and it's just a pleasant and interesting read as it creates a universe that's not too dissimilar to our own in real life yet it could be totally plausible and I think that's what makes it exciting. It's almost like novel inception as the characters are so interested in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy's alternate universe, we are interested in The Man in the High Castle as an alternate to our universe. It's a very clever book and definitely a one for those who are interested in Modern History as it might be not that thrilling or might be more difficult to read for those who are not.

As for the TV show, it's still on my "to watch" list but from what I understand of critic reviews etc. the show diverges from this original story a lot. Many of the main characters' back stories are significantly altered or just completely different and there are numerous additional characters thrown into the mix too. Many parts of the book's plot are very different in the TV show as well, but it would be fair to say the TV adaptation has been popular therefore it must be doing something right in it's own way! Although I don't think this novel is for everyone, I really recommend it to those who enjoy history or who enjoy that lighter sci-fi element where it can be extremely relatable to our own existence. You can buy The Man in the High Castle here for around £3.99.

- A.
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