REVIEW: THE HONEY QUEEN BY CATHY KELLY

THE HONEY QUEEN

Author: Cathy Kelly 
Harper Collins RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Cathy Kelly has a knack of writing feel-good novels perfect for curling up with and her latest offering The Honey Queen is no different. It’s the kind of book that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling … much like a nice drop of wine. I read this after a few particularly emotive novels and it proved to be just what I needed.

The Honey Queen weaves a number of different characters and lives together in the Irish town of Redstone. It’s a friendly place where the locals wave and chat to each other, the shops and cafes are full of cheerful hustle and bustle. New shops are popping up and the area is starting to have quite a different feel to it. Lillie comes to the town to meet the brother she only recently discovered she had; she’s still grieving the loss of her husband and her half-brother, Seth, suggests that coming to Ireland might be good for her. She arrives to a house that’s not in the best shape – Seth and his wife, Frankie, bought the house as a “fixer-upper”, but when Seth lost his job during the financial crisis, all their grand plans were put on hold. Lillie is quick to realise that things are tense between the couple – Seth is depressed and Frankie doesn’t really understand how losing his job has affected his psyche. She’s got her own worries, like an empty nest, peri-menopause and rumblings of a takeover at work. Lillie wants to do something to help – after all, they’ve welcomed her, practically a stranger, into their home – but what?

Peggy is approaching thirty and has always been restless. But now, she has enough money to open her own knitting shop in the town. While other young women dream of meeting the right man and settling down, Peggy has other ideas – to her the shop is a dream come true. Meeting David, was not on the agenda; after a night together, scared by the feelings she’s experiencing for him, she leaves abruptly without giving him a reason. His efforts to see her are spurned, leaving him heartbroken and her refusing to admit her true feelings or reasons for her fears. And then comes something else she never expected.

Freya is 15 and lives with her aunt and uncle. Her father died years before and her mother just can’t cope with responsibility. Older than her years, Freya is settled in the life she now leads. So why is she so unsettled by the news that her cousin Meredith is moving back home? Lillie soon befriends Freya and a host of other characters and as it turns out, she’s just the right person to help them navigate uncharted territory.

The Honey Queen is a character-driven book in which Lillie is at the centre of all that’s going on. It’s as though she is the queen bee in the centre of a honeycomb (a sweet place with lots of depth) and she’s the glue that brings the buzzing community back on track. Kelly’s characters are likable and well-developed – even Meredith, who comes across as selfish and unappreciative of her family, is changed by the experiences she has. All of the key characters undergo a process of refining and change, some more than others, but in a way that feels right and real. Kelly is adept at creating characters who you wouldn’t mind knowing yourself … maybe even having a cuppa with, or going with for a haircut at Bobbi’s shop. Even the minor characters had a bit of a story – the gay couple who own the delicatessen and the childless baker and his wife.

Kelly brings all the different stories and characters together with ease; there’s no disjointed feeling, just a transition as smooth as honey. She creates a sense of place so well that you feel like you’re there, part of the community. While it is for the most part a light read, Kelly laces the story with issues including emotional abuse, unemployment, mother-daughter relationships, unplanned pregnancy and more. The two that stand out the most and were insightful in their portrayal were those of emotional abuse and unemployment. Often when people think of domestic violence they think in terms of physical abuse. Domestic violence has a much broader definition, including emotional abuse and financial abuse;  forms of domestic violence other than physical are played down and ignored by many – even within the legal system. Kelly explored the emotional violence aspect sensitively and without judgement.  The other issue, unemployment, stood out because it highlighted how important a man’s sense of purpose and job really is. When that is taken away, when he has no purpose, his sense of self is eroded. It’s a complex issue and lightly touched on, but nicely done. I think it’s important for women to get that insight.

If you’re after a book that will make you feel good and lift your spirits, this is a great choice. It’s available from good bookstores and Harper Collins. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins.

Bookish treat: Fresh bread with butter (because it tastes better) and honey. What else?

For more information about domestic violence please click here.

If you live in Australia and you or someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence, click here. If you are in crisis right now, call the police immediately.