Myla Goldberg's 'Bee Season' is a US bestseller; it won rave reviews across the states from Time Magazine to the New York Times. What starts out as a story about a girl who discovers a talent for spelling grows into a sweeping tale of family breakdown, mental illness, and four people searching for something to give a greater meaning to humble existence. Published in Ireland in March, this potent debut pulls you softly into a world of obsession; it's a world that is difficult to leave behind once the final page has been turned.
Eleven-year-old Eliza Naumann has never been top of the class, not like her older brother Aaron, but everything changes when she wins her class spelling bee and is propelled into the world of county and national finals. Her win also makes her the new centre of her father's attention. Saul, a Jewish scholar and cantor, realises that Eliza's relationship with words and letters goes beyond mere memorising of spellings. He decides that the future he had planned for his son will be more suited to his daughter and he begins to introduce her to the writing of Abraham Abulafia, a 13th Century Kabbalist who described the route from letters to God, through the achievement of mystical states.
As Eliza and Saul practice together Aaron turns to a local Hare Krishna group in his search for acceptance. It's hard to imagine how four people living in one house can block each other out to such an extent, but as Aaron begins a secret life with the Hare Krishnas we discover that Miriam, Saul's wife and Aaron and Eliza's mother, has a dangerous secret life of her own.
It's not a page-turner in the traditional sense of the word but the heady mixture of compelling characters and intriguing themes, along with the sheer quality of the language, makes it absolutely mesmerising. You will not want to put this book down and it will stay with you long after you have.
Myla Goldberg talks about "Bee Season" here.