Tell It To The Bees is one of those novels you have to rush through because if you don't you'll have to put it down and that would be terrible. I picked it up for a little enjoyable reading before bed and had polished it off after five hours, barely moving for the duration and not even contemplating sleep.
On a basic level it is the story of Charlie Weekes who struggles through the break-up of his parents marriage and then the consequences of his mother's subsequent relationship with another woman. When you consider the novel's set in the 1950s that dimension of it suddenly becomes much more important and intriguing.
All too often a child's point of view (even with the distance of third-person) feels either too advanced for their age or much too childish. It's a great skill to speak as a ten year-old boy and have very few, if any, sticky moments. Charlie doesn't understand everything that goes on around him but nor is he a dim child waiting for instruction. His strange relationship with the bees of the title demonstrate his individuality but also that he craves that fundamental thing in life: a happy family.
Relationships are integral to this novel. Apart from Charlie's relationship with his devoted mother, Lydia, and uninterested and adulterous father, Robert, there is Lydia's growing attraction to the doctor, Jean Markham, and Lydia's difficult relationships with both her own family and her husband's. Each one is delicately painted but Shaw never shies away from enhancing detail. The love between Lydia and Jean is shown physically, as it should be considering the level of heterosexual description in there.
This book manages to show adult events through the eyes of a child quite vividly, though the novel is not completely from Charlie's point of view. Indeed, it is very much a shared novel and if Charlie's considered the main character then Lydia must run a very close second. All in all, this is a story about love and understanding. It may be a universal theme but Shaw brings fresh eyes to it.
This is definitely a book I'll be rereading as soon as possible.