Shortlisted for the 1998 Giller Prize
A Globe and Mail Notable Book of 1998
Over 40,000 copies sold in hardcover
In A Recipe for Bees, Gail Anderson-Dargatz gives readers a remarkable woman to stand beside Hagar Shipley and Daisy Goodwin — but Augusta Olsen also has attitude, a wicked funny bone, and the dubious gift of second sight.
At home in Courtenay, B.C., Augusta anxiously awaits news of her dearly loved son-in-law Gabe, who is undergoing brain surgery miles away in Victoria. Her best friend Rose is waiting for Augusta to call as soon as she hears. Through Rose, we begin to learn the story of Augusta's sometimes harsh, sometimes magical life: the startling vision of her mother's early death; the loneliness of her marriage to Karl and her battle with Karl's detestable father, Olaf. We are told of her gentle, platonic affair with a church minister, of her not-so-platonic affair with a man from the town, and the birth of her only child. We also learn of the special affinity between Rose and Augusta, who share the delights and exasperations of old age.
Just as The Cure for Death by Lightning offers recipes and remedies, A Recipe for Bees is saturated with bee lore, and is full of rich domestic detail, wondrous imagery culled from rural kitchens and gardens, shining insights into ageing, family and friendship. And at its heart, is the life, death and resurrection of an extraordinary marriage
About the author
Gail Anderson-Dargatz, whose fictional style has been coined as "Pacific Northwest Gothic" by the Boston Globe, has been published worldwide in English and in many other languages. A Recipe for Bees and The Cure For Death By Lightning were international bestsellers, and were both finalists for the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada. The Cure For Death By Lightning won the UK’s Betty Trask Prize among other awards. A Rhinestone Button was a national bestseller in Canada and her first book, The Miss Hereford Stories, was short-listed for the Leacock Award for humour. Her most recent novel, The Spawning Grounds, released in fall 2016, was again a bestseller. After nearly a decade of teaching within the Optional-Residency MFA program in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, Gail now mentors writers around the world through her own on-line forums. She lives in the Shuswap, the landscape found in so much of her writing.
- Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Excerpt: A Recipe for Bees (by (author) Gail Anderson-Dargatz)
From Chapter One
"Have I told you the drone's penis snaps off during intercourse with the queen bee?" asked Augusta.
"Yes," said Rose. "Many times."
Before Augusta dragged her luggage upstairs to the apartment, before she checked on the welfare of her elderly husband, Karl, even before she hugged and greeted her seven kittens, she had made her way, with the aid of a cane, across the uneven ground to inspect the hive of bees she kept in Rose's garden.
"They won't mate at all unless they're way up in the sky," said Augusta. "The drones won't take a second look at a queen coming out of a hive. But when she's thirty, a hundred, feet up in the air, then she gets their interest. They'll seek her out, flying this way and that to catch her scent until there's a V of drones -- like the V of geese following a leader in the sky -- chasing along behind her."
"You were going to tell me about Joe," said Rose.
"As soon as the drone mounts and thrusts, he's paralyzed, his genitals snap off, and he falls backward a hundred feet to his death."
"I don't want to hear about it."
In late summer, hives full of ripening honey emitted a particular scent, like the whiff of sweetness Augusta used to catch passing by the candy-apple kiosk at the fall fair, but without the tang of apples to it. She should have been smelling this now, but instead the hive gave off the vinegar-and-almond scent of angry bees. They buzzed loudly, boiling in the air in front of the hive like a pot of simmering toffee. There were far more guard bees than usual, standing at attention at the mouth of the hive.
"Something's been after the bees," said Augusta. She took a step forward to examine them, but several bees flew straight at her, warning her off. "I'll have to look at them later," she said. "When they've settled down."
She turned to the balcony of her apartment, directly above the garden. "Do you think Karl remembers today is our anniversary?"
"He hasn't said anything to me," said Rose. Later that evening, though, Augusta would learn that Rose had hidden Karl's flowers in her fridge. He had walked up and down the roadsides and into the vacant lots, searching for pearly everlastings, sweet tiny yellow flowers with white bracts that bloomed from midsummer right on into winter, and held their shape and color when dried. They were the flowers Karl had picked for Augusta's wedding bouquet forty-eight years before. He had brought the flowers to Rose's apartment in a vase and asked her to hide them in her fridge until later that day.
"You'd think he'd remember, wouldn't you?" said Augusta. "Especially after everything that's happened these past three weeks."
"You can hear it, you know."
"The snapping. If you're listening for it, you can hear a sharp crack when the drone's penis breaks off."
Rose followed Augusta as she headed through the sliding glass doors into Rose's apartment to retrieve her luggage. "Can you carry this one upstairs?" she asked Rose. "And this one? I can only manage the one bag with this cane of mine."
Rose took the bags, one in each hand. "But you were going to tell me the story, about seeing Joe again."
"Not now, Rose. I want to see if Joy's phoned with news about Gabe."
"But you promised."
"We'll have plenty of time later."
"You'd go and tell something like that to some strange woman on the train, but you won't tell your best friend."
"I like Esther. I think we'll be seeing a lot more of her. I promised to show her my hive."
"You'll be seeing a lot more of her. I don't care if I ever see her again."
"Well, since neither Esther nor I can drive, you'll have to drive me, so yes, you will be seeing her again."
"Oh, isn't that just great? Now I'm your personal chauffeur."
Augusta turned around at the doorway. "Rose, what's this all about?"
"Just tell the story. About Joe. I thought you never saw him again."
Augusta shook her head and started up the stairs to her apartment. "I'm sure I told you all that already. I can remember showing you the brooch he gave me. Ages and ages ago."
"Yes, the day we met. But you never told me the story. Are you really going to give that brooch to Joy?"
Augusta had met Rose five years before, on the ferry, just after she and Karl had sold the farm. Augusta and Karl were moving to the warmer climate of Vancouver Island. Rose turned the corner into the ferry bathroom and there was Augusta, sitting at the mirrored makeup counter they have on those boats, rummaging through her big purse. Augusta had looked up at Rose in the mirror, smiled, and said, "Do you have a comb? I can't seem to find mine."
Perhaps it was an inappropriate request to make of a stranger, she thought now, rather like asking to borrow someone's toothbrush. Rose said no. "They have them at the newsstand."
"Thanks. I'll get one from there. That's a lovely brooch you're wearing."
"It was my mother's," Rose replied, and Augusta promptly caught her in a web of conversation about the brooch a man named Joe had given her, a brooch Augusta pulled from her purse and showed Rose: a silver setting hemmed a real bee suspended in amber. When Augusta held it up, it cast a little pool of honey light on the floor. "It was the only lasting thing he ever gave me, in the way of presents," she said. "And that was decades after I'd stopped seeing him. I still dream about him, you know." Rose nodded and smiled and moved slowly backward, away, to a toilet stall. Augusta, seeing her discomfort, left before she came out again.
"Gail Anderson-Dargatz has something that no amount of craft can give a writer: She is hopelessly in love with and attentive to her subject, the physical world and all its gifts." -- The Globe and Mail
"A wonder to be cherished: a wise, beautiful and deeply felt novel that reminds us all that it's never too late to fall in love." -- Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives
"Succeeds with unexpected elegance and energy... Margaret Laurence meets Gabriel García Márquez." -- Elm Street
"A richly textured, life-affirming novel teeming with the small, hard-won victories that make life not only bearable, but glorious." -- Kitchener-Waterloo Record
"She shares the rich vision of fellow Canadians Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.... Wonderful, salty descriptions of the prairie and its people. This is a real discovery." -- The Mail on Sunday (UK)
“I ended up reading the book in one sitting, hardly noticing that I was getting burned by the Long Beach sun.” -- Geist Magazine
“(a) heady blend of earthy realism and romantic exoticism...This is a bravura work that in several ways recalls Carol Shields’s The Stone Diaries. What Gail Anderson-Dargatz has achieved is a commemoration of a lifestyle and a collection of characters that live on when the novel is finished.” -- The Times Literary Supplement