‘Honeybee’ by Craig Silvey

Gentle, tender and deeply moving, Honeybee is a coming-of-age tale with a difference, a narrative of identity, acceptance, love, fear and family. It’s also the much anticipated third novel of the author who bought us the modern Australian classic, Jasper Jones.

Honeybee opens late one night as fourteen year-old Sam Watson climbs over the rail of a quiet overpass, looking into the void far below. Metres away, an old man, Vic, smokes his last cigarette. A fateful connection is made between the two. Events do not unfold in the way first anticipated and an unlikely friendship develops. With no friends, Sam, lost and aimless, constantly on the move with his single mother, is running from a broken, violent life: a lonely, grieving Vic mourns the death of his wife, Edi. 

In taking Sam under his wing, Vic provides purpose for the teenager, encouraging him, without judgement, to concentrate more on himself and who is he, to navigate his own emotions and needs – find out who you are, and live that life is the mantra of Silvey’s luminous novel.

Both are suffering, both feel isolated from the world. A cosy domestic world is juxtaposed with the threatening, drug addled home of Sam’s mother and violent new lover, Steve, along with his ever present criminal associates. Sam cooks and keeps house for the old man, and, finding a stunning collection of Edi’s clothes, takes on a gender fluid persona within the house. Whilst there’s nothing sexual or untoward (a grandfather/grandchild relationship has evolved), concerns are raised about the living arrangements. Sam is forced to return to his now drug-dependent mother and her life with Steve.

Loyalty to his mother, scarred by Steve, yet deeply touched by his love for Vic and new friends, Sam is conflicted. It’s a heartwarming narrative if a little idealistic. Yet the novel is also heartbreaking. As Sam struggles with gender dysphoria, so the struggles, pains and self-doubt are laid before us. Teenage friend Aggie is there for support: nurse by day, torchsong drag queen by night, Paul is there to guide. And Vic is just Vic.

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