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A Review of Craig Silvey’s “Honeybee”: an Australian novel about queer and trans life and learning to love who we are


Hope is holding the book, Honeybee by Craig Silvey. In the background of the photo are some houseplants. The cover of the novel is black with white writing. There is a portrait of a person in red- and blue-toned lighting.

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There is so much to talk about in Honeybee. I don’t know where to begin.

This book was published in in September 2020. It was, needless to say, a wild time in Melbourne as we went through an extremely long lockdown. It is hard to think back on that time, but I also think it is one of the reasons why I missed this book when it was first published.

This novel traverses so many intersections of Australian life from growing up in poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, queerness and transness in Australia, toxic masculinity, and ultimately how these things can shape the way people see themselves. The instability that Sam experiences throughout his life and the verbal and physical abuse he receives also shape how they love themselves. When I was talking with a friend about this book, they said that Sam’s character felt frustrating. Throughout the novel, the main protagonist keeps sabotaging everything – their relationships, their friendships, and the help people try to give them. When Sam finally becomes Victoria at the end of the novel, she begins to have more confidence in herself and her self-worth.

The kind of home environment that Victoria grew up in is not really conducive to stability, safety, or love. Of course, there are close relationships, and I don’t doubt that Victoria doesn’t love her mother – but the relationship is also extremely toxic. Victoria is the child, yet she is always expected to be the parent and caregiver for her mother. Treating children like they are adults (in this particular way) is a form of trauma that doesn’t go away easily.

While this novel discusses trans and queer identity in the backdrop of Australia’s ‘bloke’ culture, it also addresses issues of family trauma and how this can impact and compound other forms of abuse and pain.

I truly loved this book and felt myself relating a lot with the main character, Victoria. The journey of self-love that she goes on is one I can relate to deeply, as I also got myself out of poverty. Victoria has amazing people who seem to find her at the right time. Vic becomes this parent-like figure for Victoria, but also a friend. Their relationship was so beautiful to me, and I could see Vic in many of the men I knew as I was growing up.

This book deals with a lot of heavy topics around suicide, self-harm, and abuse. It isn’t always an easy read and definitely something that I found myself having to have small breaks from. Overall though, I thought this was a modern Australian masterpiece. It reminded me so much of Boy Swallows Universe, which I’ve also reviewed here. I am really enjoying these new discussions being had in Australian literature around gender and particularly class.

If you haven’t read this book yet, you should stop what you’re doing and get yourself a copy. Let me know what you think of it in the comments below. As always, share the reading love.

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