The Bee and the Orange Tree (Melissa Ashley, Affirm)
The Bee and the Orange Tree is Melissa Ashley’s second historical novel. Set in the literary salons of 17th-century Paris, it follows the lives of three women: Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy, a famous writer who coined the term ‘fairy tale’, her daughter Angelina, and her friend Nicola. With an alternating point of view, and spanning only two months, the story meanders through the daily lives of these women as they struggle to survive in a rigid patriarchy that punishes anyone who dares to be different. Marie Catherine is denied the recognition her male counterparts enjoy; Angelina struggles with her sexuality while also adjusting to life outside the strict confines of the convent in which she was brought up; and Nicola is charged with orchestrating the attempted murder of her abusive husband. Ashley has clearly done her research, but the often clumsily inserted exposition—and there is a lot of exposition—comes at the cost of any decent characterisation. Societal injustices are described in detail, but there is little time spent describing how they actually affect our heroines. Motives are not explained and long-held secrets are exposed hurriedly, making it difficult to connect with any of the characters. The Bee and the Orange Tree has an interesting premise, but it’s ultimately one that the book fails to deliver upon.
Emily Smith is a Melbourne-based freelance reviewer