It's the start of another school year at St. Ambrose. But while the children are in the classroom colouring in, their mothers are learning sharper lessons on the other side of the school gates. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power... and how to get invited to lunch. St. Ambrose has an undisputed queen bee. Beatrice. Ruler, by Divine Right, of all school fund-raising, this year, last year and, surely, for many years to come…
The Hive is an irresistible, brilliantly observed novel. Wickedly funny, it is also a fascinating and subtle story about group politics and female friendship. From the joys and perils (well, mainly perils) of the Lunch Ladder, to the military operation that is the Car Boot Sale, via the do's and don'ts of dressing your child as a dalek, all human life is here.
Gill Hornby is a writer and journalist. She lives with her husband, Robert Harris, and their four children in Kintbury, Berkshire. The Hive is her first novel.
Rachel tried to tune in to Bea’s little rally without actually moving but she could only hear snippets. There was something about the fabulous new headmaster. And the latest savage cuts. And, guess what, some fund-raising. Of course. Yet more fund-raising. She shifted her weight on to the other hip and tuned out again…
St. Ambrose was known throughout the county for its one-big-happy-family schtick. They all looked out for one another at St. Ambrose; prided themselves on it. Well, some of them did. And Rachel had always, instinctively, made a point of having as little to do with that lot, thank you very much, as was politely possible. Still keeping her distance she watched them all over there, one-big-happy-family-ing round Bea, raising their hands to volunteer for something or other, jittery with excitement. Rachel shook her head: frankly, she despaired sometimes, she really did.
Humming quietly she walked back through the yard with a basket full of future lunch. She was completely engrossed in totting up the elements she had – pitch-perfect cherry tomatoes, purple basil, figs, plus tiny beetroot, thyme, shallots and garlic – and how they might be combined together to form a coherent whole. Those that can, cook; those that are completely hopeless need a recipe book – that was her philosophy. She remembered the blackberries that the kids had picked and the mascarpone in the fridge. Simple, stylish, delicious. Hamish could have the leftovers. Perfect.
So she was actually, consciously, smiling when she looked up to see the cloven hooves of a flock of mutton dressed as lamb clipclopping across towards her. Sharon, Jasmine, Heather – well, Heather was, to be fair, more mutton dressed as mutton… But who the hell was that with her? Colette? Colette, in her yard, done up like she was off to some sodding cocktail party...
OK. That was it. She was the victim of some hilarious bloody practical joke by Bea, and she wasn’t putting up with it for another second.
A trolley came and parked next to hers. A food mountain was piled up behind the two benign small children perched within. Heather stared at it all in wonder. Jumbo this, family-sized that, one hundred fish fingers? How could any family possibly ever eat one hundred fish fingers? The woman reached over for a gallon of milk and glanced into Heather’s trolley. She took a second gallon, turned and tossed her eyes skywards in a look of sisterhood – ‘Weekly nightmare, eh?’ – and on she pressed.
Heather looked down at what she was buying, the sheer bulkiness of it. Of course. That perfect stranger had not seen it as the trolley of a mother-of-one who was organising a car boot sale. Perhaps she didn’t even know about the car boot sale. (Though that was a worrying thought. Surely this was a huge thing locally? Had she not advertised enough? Perhaps she should run after the woman and just mention it…) No. She had looked at Heather’s trolley and she had just assumed stuff. She had assumed a big busy household full of open, hungry mouths like a nest in spring. She had assumed a host of small skeletons that needed calcium to grow; that Heather was, like herself, as busy as could be. She had, in fact, assumed that Heather was actually living the life that Heather herself had always expected to live.
She started to walk a little taller. A different woman was trying to manage a furious toddler and the new Heather peered over her vast trolley and smiled at her. We’ve all been there, said her look. Though she, personally, never had. Maisie had never gone in for tantrums on the whole. Always a quiet little thing from the get-go. Too easy, Heather thought, and instantly that sad empty feeling came over her.
She took four loaves of bread though she wasn’t sure why. Do you need bread at a car boot sale? Well, the sheer quantity of it somehow made her feel better, filled a sort of gap.
The Detergents aisle now. She didn’t need any at home, and couldn’t see that she had to get any for Sunday. But Oh! she thought. Just look at them: the multi-packs of Flash that she would be buying if she had ended up with the large gang that was her due. She saw her other self – dragging out the mop and bucket twice a day, moaning about the mud on the kitchen floor and the football boots slung in the hall and all the other million and one things she had to do and did nobody appreciate her round here or might she just as well be talking to herself – and smiled wistfully. Hey, why not? What was to stop her?