Author: Craig Silvey
Published: September 29th 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
The highly anticipated new novel by the bestselling author of Jasper Jones. ‘Find out who you are, and live that life.’
Late in the night, fourteen-year-old Sam Watson steps onto a quiet overpass, climbs over the rail and looks down at the road far below.
At the other end of the same bridge, an old man, Vic, smokes his last cigarette.
The two see each other across the void. A fateful connection is made, and an unlikely friendship blooms. Slowly, we learn what led Sam and Vic to the bridge that night. Bonded by their suffering, each privately commits to the impossible task of saving the other.
Honeybee is a heartbreaking, life-affirming novel that throws us headlong into a world of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, daring dog rescues and one spectacular drag show.
At the heart of Honeybee is Sam: a solitary, resilient young person battling to navigate the world as their true self; ensnared by loyalty to a troubled mother, scarred by the volatility of a domineering stepfather, and confounded by the kindness of new alliances.
Honeybee is a tender, profoundly moving novel, brimming with vivid characters and luminous words. It’s about two lives forever changed by a chance encounter — one offering hope, the other redemption. It’s about when to persevere, and when to be merciful, as Sam learns when to let go, and when to hold on.
‘I tried harder to fit in, but there wasn’t a space for me. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be. It was like I was born speaking a language that nobody else could understand, but I couldn’t talk any other way. So I stopped speaking, and I learned how to be invisible.’
West Australian author Craig Silvey returns to the spotlight with his first novel in over a decade. Honeybee is a radiant novel, offering a dichotomy of both darkness and light. An essential and tender hearted tale, Honeybee is nothing short of remarkable.
We meet young Sam Watson, a teenager at breaking point when Honeybee begins its unforgettable journey. As Sam contemplates what remains of a broken life, an elderly man named Vic is also considering his last moments on earth. This fateful meeting of two unlikely souls, who find a connection one night on a bridge, strikes a very different life path for both individuals. Tentatively taking steps towards a friendship, Sam and Vic defy the odds, building a relationship that allows each to air their private agonies. As Sam and Vic work to save each other from their personal demons, they become embroiled in a number of colourful escapades. From a bank theft, to a daring motorcycle ride and a drag shows defines just some of the adventures the friends embark upon during their time together. But Sam continues to be haunted by an absent mother, a cruel stepfather and the overwhelming feeling that this teen just does not fit in. Despite these setbacks, Sam is surrounded by hope, help, support, acceptance and understanding by a number of unsuspecting figures. A story of charitable acts, forgiveness, kindness, moving on and settling past ghosts to rest defines Honeybee.
I consider myself very lucky and proud to be a West Australian resident. Shortly after the release of Craig Silvey’s much anticipated new novel Honeybee, I was able to listen to and meet the Perth based writer at a local book event. I was absolutely amazed and moved by the genuine passion Craig Silvey expressed towards his latest novel. My heart went out to Silvey as he described the feeling of finally letting go and writing the final sentence of Honeybee. Rather than feel elated, Silvey felt sad and bereft, like he had lost a friend. I got a glimpse of this feeling too when I read the final sentence of Honeybee. I haven’t been able to shake this book from my conscience. It’s been almost four weeks now and I’m just unable to say goodbye to this brilliant novel.
The beauty and art of Silvey’s novel does rest with the characters as much as the storyline. We follow a confused and ill-treated teen named Sam Watson, just as this fourteen year old is about to jump over a bridge to commit suicide. This dramatic and heart wrenching opening was inspired by an experience that touched Silvey and his family. As a result, Silvey abandoned his work in progress, a historical text and he was compelled to tell the story of someone on the fringes of society. Silvey wished to give a voice to a misunderstood individual with no options, no understanding, a clear lack of networks to lean on, no family support and above all else, a young person clearly hurting a great deal. Honeybee is an amalgamation of all these aspects and more. Honeybee is a work of fiction that aims to provide a sense of understanding, semblance and a voice to those who may not have the courage to tell their story.
In formulating this heartfelt novel, Silvey has been incredibly diligent in his approach. While maintaining a respectful and sensitive tone, Silvey has worked hard to bring to light many remarkable aspects of this novel to the public sphere. First hand and laborious research avenues formed a significant component in the evolution of Honeybee. From consultation with drag queens, lessons on makeup application, motorcycle repair techniques and the art of cooking Julia Child style is just a small touch of the attention to detail that has been directed to this tender novel.
At its very heart Honeybee is a coming of age and friendship story. We witness Sam’s progression from a teen at breaking point, to a pillar of strength and survival. Along the way, we have many genuine souls who manage to touch Sam’s life with their acts of kindness and compassion. Friendship comes from an unlikely source, via the formidable Vic, the old man also hoping to end his life. Additional supports for Sam come from the wise drag queen Peter, social support worker Diane and friend Aggie. Sam finds a great deal of assistance in unexpected places, providing a sense of hope for the reader amongst the deep pain, as well as dark moments highlighted throughout the book. Silvey doesn’t shy away from exposing the ugly moments in life and those self-serving individuals who contributed to Sam’s immense pain. However, Silvey is deliberate in steering his novel towards positivity and realisation in regards to the final fate of Sam.
There is so much I could continue to hark on about in regards to Honeybee. I will mention as a local, I found the West Australian based setting to be well presented and very authentic. It was a great feeling to set foot on the familiar places Sam experiences as Honeybee makes its unforgettable journey. Unconventional friendships seems to rule the day in Honeybee. As does the gentle act of reaching out and offering support in the most unlikeliest of situations is what will remain with me, thanks to the inner beauty of Honeybee.
Honeybee by Craig Silvey was published on 29th September 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Honeybee, Craig Silvey, visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.