Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
30 March, 2010
This is one of two books that were lent to me by one of my friends. ‘You must read this,’ she said as she pressed the book into my hands. ‘You’ll love it.’ And I did.
Erick Setiawan’s Of Bees and Mists is a fairy tale set somewhere in South East Asia and sometime in the modern era (although where and when isn’t clear). Setiawan writes beautifully and his story is a blend of Eastern folklore but written with a modern touch. I was completely charmed by it and shook with anger at the utter evil which the heroine Meridia has to battle as she fights for her love.
And I applaud Setiawan for creating one of the most evil characters I have ever come across in my reading life. I guess what you think is evil will depend on what you probably fear. In my case, it is Eva, Meridia’s mother-in-law, who is extremely sly, clever and visciously manipulates everyone around her and doesn’t care about the damage she inflicts.
The title, Of Bees and Mist, describes the two halves of Meridia’s life. She grows up in a household of mists: her parents, the once beautiful but now eccentric Ravenna and silent and severe Gabriel who keeps to his study, only appearing to eat the meal his wife prepares, once so in love but no longer speaking after a traumatic accident soon after her birth. Meridia grows up in this sad household, longing to find out what had caused the rift in her parents marriage and escape the oppressive atmosphere, and she does so when she falls in love with Daniel, a jeweller’s son. Looking forward to creating a new life and family, Meridia soon finds that things are not all they seem in Daniel’s family household where she goes to live and that she has to fight an even more monstrous foe in the shape of her mother-in-law Eva and the ominous bees that seem to surround her. We follow Meridia as she grows up, becomes a mother and learns how to protect and nurture her family all the while battling the demands Eva makes on her family. Will she be able to save her marriage, and will she be able to heal the rift between Ravenna and Gabriel?
Setiawan’s characterisation is beautiful, especially his female characters who are the true stars of this book. Ravenna, silent, jealous and still in love, Meridia, strong and resilient and Eva, the control freak who will go to any lengths to keep her son under her thumb. It is a world where women are expected to act in a certain way, yet must have the strength to fight for what is rightfully theirs. And although each character experiences tremendous hurt and sorrow, there is some form of redemption at the end.
The novel wasn’t what I expected from the cover and blurb. It’s a fairytale, bildungsroman and love story all deliciously wrapped in a South East Asian setting without being too specific and easily categorisable. You can see the influence of Asian and European myths and fairytales and I loved the way Setiawan makes his story his own, completely different from what is out there, making it hard to compare with any other book.