When I picked up The Honey Farm, I was instantly drawn in by the beautiful botanical cover. When I read the description, I was even more excited; there aren’t many things that I find more fascinating than bees and plagues.
The first character we are introduced to is named Cynthia. She owns an isolated honey farm that is experiencing unprecedented drought and thus a drop in honey production and sales. She puts out a call for helpers in the form of a poster to try and boost production for the summer. Her helpers will receive free room and board on the condition that they work on the farm. Cynthia presents the farm as an artists’ colony, attracting a very specific type of helper. This cryptic invitation mirrors Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House in that the invitees are given very little information, yet feel drawn to the farm like bees to the hive. The two characters that are given the most attention are Sylvia and Ibrahim (bring on the biblical references) who are both young and trying to get away from their stifling families. Sylvia and Ibrahim begin a romantic relationship while the helpers slowly abandon the farm one by one. First, because of bloody water shooting from the pipes, then a hoard of frogs descending on the house, until each of the biblical plagues and pestilences are fulfilled.
“Everything dies. And we have to learn to love the world anyway.”
I gave The Honey Farm three out of five for a few reasons. While the writing was strong and the premise was interesting, the plot and the handling of characters let me down in part two. I have an issue with the unwell woman trope being used so ubiquitously in literature. I am all for monstrous women, horrid women, and nasty women, but I prefer my female villains to be completely in control of their monstrosity. It’s so much more interesting when their primary characteristic isn’t that their unbalanced. I recently heard Phillip Gourevitch talk at the Banff Centre. He said that there is a real lack of villainy in literary fiction and far too many one-dimensional ‘bad guys.’ This is where my real issue with The Honey Farm lies. The ‘bad guy’ trait in this case is the fact that Cynthia just wants a baby too much. She’s a queer woman living alone (I feel like I need to unpack this more, especially in the LGBTQ+ context). Cynthia lost her own child in circumstances that are never quite made clear and she keeps Sylvia and Ibrahim at her farm even after all of the others have left. I feel that most of her actions are ultimately discredited because of her overwhelming desire for a baby and her mental instability. Not to mention, there was a ton of gas-lighting from both Cynthia and Ibrahim that felt a little too normalized to me.
Overall, this was an interesting read that I would take with a grain of salt. You may get tired of the biblical imagery, but you’ll learn a whole lot about bees.