NED KELLY AND THE CITY OF THE BEES by Thomas Keneally

NED KELLY AND THE CITY OF THE BEES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This children's book by the Australian novelist is one of those out-of-the-mainstream fantasies that seem untouched by developments (in and out of children's books) of the last 50 years. The old-fashioned, out-dated air is cultivated in Ryan's black-and-white pictures of Kelly as a typical pre-WW II Australian Schoolboy, and his summer companion Nancy Clancy as she appeared at age ten 110 years earlier, when she was first adopted by the bees. Still ten to all appearances, the 120-year-old Nancy talks in rhyme to annoy her bee friend and carrier Apis, but relaxes when alone with Ned, whom she and Apis shrink to size, spirit away from a dreary hospital bed, and set up in Nancy's cell at the hive. Between Apis' radio-listening and Nancy's humanitarian interference, some deviations are made from the bees' ""43-million-year-old traditions."" However, it is mostly Ned who has to adapt--or protest in vain--to such shocking practices as the new queen destroying her sisters and the old one disposing of drones who have served their purpose. Among these last are Basil, a vocal proponent of drones' rights though well aware of the futility of his campaign, and Romeo, an outside drone enamoured of the queen, who gains entrance by picking up the hive smell from Ned and Nancy and gains the queen's sufferance with his endless string of bad jokes learned from a kids' radio show. The inevitable fate of these two gives the story its requisite poignance, although the emotional temperature of the story never rises far above the tepid. Still, the hive activity has its human and natural into rest, the fancies never become cute or the innocent style archly naive, and Ned's return to the human world is accomplished with a properly down-to-earth turn of the screw.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Godine