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Meet One Of 2020’s Blockbuster Novels

It’s been over a decade since bestselling author Craig Silvey released a book

By Rain Francis

“I looked at the road below. It was a long way down. I focused on the spot where I would probably land, between the white line and the brown gravel.” 

Honeybee’s dramatic opening scene introduces us to two people, opposite in age but both ready to end their own lives. Over the next 430 pages it’s the empathy between them that becomes a central force of the story.

This is Craig Silvey’s third novel, following the epically successful Jasper Jones, which was made into a film and a stage play, and won several major awards.

Honeybee’s lead (yes, I’m already imagining this book as a film) is Sam Watson, a teenager who’s had an impossibly difficult start in life, and is now also beginning to question their very identity.

It’s wonderful to read what is bound to be a commercially successful book with a trans character at centre stage. I hope that it leads to greater understanding and compassion for the LGBT+ community. However, I do wonder how it will be received by trans and gender-diverse people. After all, it’s pretty brave for Craig Silvey – a straight white male – to even approach gender identity as a subject matter, and he would have been well aware of the kind of criticism he’d be up against. But he’s tackled it anyway.

I’m sure there’ll be discussions about where the line is when it comes to telling stories that don’t relate to our direct lived experience, and I understand that, particularly for marginalised groups, this is part of a much wider issue.

But I’m also of the belief that the act of creation of any kind of art is a learning process for the artist as much as anyone. Any writer – like any actor – worth their salt puts an enormous amount of work and research into character creation, and approaches that work with empathy and an open mind that is ready to lay judgement aside and learn. And it feels like Silvey has really done this here.

The writing itself is powerful; at times I found myself in tears; at others, cowering nervously in fear at the vicious actions of some of the more unhinged characters. The language is simple, the sentences short. In places this left me wanting more, but ultimately it made sense for the voice of a young person with little in the way of formal education. (If the language was more ornate I would probably have struggled to reconcile a young character written in an adult voice, so, really, there’s no pleasing me). 


The writing itself is powerful. At times I found myself in tears

Honeybee has the pace of an adventure novel, complete with, as the blurb goes “extortion plots, botched bank robberies, daring dog rescues and one spectacular drag show”.

I found parts to be a little too saccharine for my taste, particularly in the concluding chapters, but on the whole I truly loved the experience of reading it, and there were times when I couldn’t bring myself to stop. Honeybee can be a confronting read, but it’s ultimately uplifting and beautiful, with richly drawn characters I won’t forget. 

PS… When this is made into a film (I’m expecting to hear an announcement of that sometime very soon), I’m imagining it directed by Zak Hilditch, whose film These Final Hours, is also set in Perth and features some very scary characters with nothing left to lose. If he does end up directing it, let’s all agree I’m psychic?

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BY Rain Francis

Rain is PRIMER's book reviewer, and also a dance teacher in Melbourne

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