One thing Jodi Picoult does and does well is highlight often-fraught realities and force readers to consider their own uncomfortable opinions and assumptions. I’ve mentioned this as she’s written about racism and reproductive rights and (most recently) COVID. Here she tackles a few complex issues – including something I won’t mention as it’s a spoiler.
But we also spend time with a mother – who endured an abusive relationship until her son was 6 years of age – now forced to question whether her son is capable of the same violent behaviour as his father… either inherited DNA infecting his make-up or by witnessing (when young) his father’s actions.Mad Honey
by Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Finney Boylan
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Olivia McAfee and Ava Campanello have each had a change of life forced upon them. Olivia never dreamed that after her messy divorce she would find herself back in her sleepy New Hampshire home town, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father's beekeeping business. Ava is also in search of a fresh start, moving to Adams with her daughter Lily, who is in her final year of high school.
For a short while these new beginnings are just what everyone hoped for. Olivia's son Asher falls for the new girl at school, and Lily can't help loving him in return. With Ash she feels happy for the first time, yet she wonders if she can trust him completely.
Then one day Olivia receives a phone call. Lily is dead and Ash is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent, but she also recognises the flashes of his father's dangerous temper in him. As the case unfolds she realises Ash has hidden more than he's shared with her.
It has to be said that – if you’re interested in bees…. this is the book for you. I, however, am not interested in bees so skimmed A LOT of detail. Some of it was metaphorical and that analogy is certainly drawn a number of times…
The secret weapon of mad honey, of course, is that you expect it to be sweet, not deadly. You’re deliberately attracted to it. By the time it messes with your head, your heart, it’s too late. p 343
But I really don’t care that much about bees so wished the authors had lightened up on that and reduced the book’s length by about a third.
Indeed, the only book of Picoult’s I didn’t finish reading was her 2020 novel, The Book of Two Ways, which started enjoyably but then became something akin to a text book on Egyptology and physics ‘n’ stuff. I think the detail we’re given (hit over the heads with) about bees risks this being similar, though perhaps the art of beekeeping is a little less complex than physics. (Or was easier for me to skim.) Detail is similarly delivered later in the novel about one of the other subjects – it’s included because it’s relevant (and important in general) – but a bit laboriously delivered, lecture-style.
The book unfolds from Olivia and Lily’s points of view. I expected to also hear from Ava (Lily’s mother) and think it might have been stronger if we were offered the two mothers’ viewpoints. Having said that Lily’s voice is also all-important here. It just felt like her mother played a very minor role when she was probably most stricken.
Although Olivia’s story unfolds in a linear style, the timing of Lily’s narration jumps about A LOT. You need to pay attention to the dates prefacing each of her chapters. It’s cleverly written so there’s some foreshadowing and we don’t quite know if we know EVERYTHING until we realise we don’t. And there’s a great twist here. Though I’m loath to call it that as it diminishes the situation. I feel like the topic is deftly handled – albeit a bit lecture-like.
Lily’s story aside, this is also about a mother who worries her son might be like his father. There are certainly glimpses of anger and Asher’s relationship with Lily is quite tumultuous. This would be a great book club choice because not only do readers get the whodunnit element (that I very much appreciated and glad we were offered closure) but Olivia’s forced to ask herself questions no mother wants to ask about the legacy of her marriage – genes her son may have inherited and whether they’ve been stilled by the loving and nurturing life he’s experienced since.
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.