The Honey Month: A delicate and unusual collection inspired by honey

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The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar fantasy book reviewsThe Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Having recently re-read Chocolat I found myself with a hankering for more of that winning combination of sugar and magic. It was lucky then that I stumbled across Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month which provided just what I was after in perfect, petit-four-sized nuggets.

The Honey Month was conceived when the author received a gift of assorted honeys from a new-found friend. Finding herself inspired by the smell, taste and texture of each honey she wrote a quick review of each one, followed by a short story or a poem set to the individual sensation each honey garnered. The result is the Honey month, a collection of 28 magical, whimsical snippets, each as unique as the honey that birthed it.

I am hard pressed to say what I enjoyed more, the stories themselves or the reviews that precede them. Writing about food is a true art and anyone who can avoid repeating tired phrases like mouth-watering again and again has my respect. Amal’s reviews are chatty, she evokes memories from her childhood and compares the colour of the honeys to beer, cider and a wide variety of other beverages and foods. Needless to say I have found myself craving honey more often than ever before and with a greater appreciation for the sheer variety.

The stories in The Honey Month themselves are descriptive and metaphorical. There is more often than not a feminine presence: a young girl, a fallen star, a trapped fairy. Sometimes the girls are really flowers, sometimes it’s not quite clear. There are plenty of bees to remind you where these stories began; indeed the collection is as much a celebration of bees as it is of honey, which seems only right as they did all the hard work in the first place. Nature in general features strongly with day, night, rivers, moons and dawn personified. There’s plenty to interpret and wonder at, and the stories could so easily be dreams, quick snippets of something half-remembered.

One of my favourites in The Honey Month belongs to the raspberry creamed honey whose opening line, “my feet were in the river when the dawn forgot to rise”, is the sort of line my dreams are made of. Another was the story spawned from the Manuka Honey which bucks the trend of the rest of the collection with its medicinal creepiness. (I’ve never tried Manuka honey and I don’t think I will thanks).

The stories vary in tone — in some there is a whimsy and a quiet, pretty sadness, in others a sensuous, sexual undertone, in yet others a deeper loneliness. I enjoyed the change in pace that came from switching between different forms — the short snappy lines of one poem balanced with the elegance of the following story. That said, if I had a criticism of this collection it would be that some of the stories blended into one. The dream-like quality pervades the whole collection and I grew a little tired of repeated references to a mysterious “she” who grows unnamed. Towards the end I wondered if the collection may have been better at 20 honeys rather than 28. Nevertheless I enjoyed the impression that I was left with on finishing and if a few of the stories fell by the wayside they still played their part in building the overall sensation of honey-inspired mysticism.

The Honey Month is the sort of book I’d happily keep on my shelf forever. It’s a tiny thing and an intriguing idea. The delicacy and daintiness of each story makes it something to dip into again and again (and that’s the best honey pun I can manage).

Published in 2010. Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month, with an introduction by Danielle Sucher, ranks among the year’s most exquisite treasures. This beautiful volume of short fictions and poems takes as its inspiration the author’s tasting of 28 different kinds of honey, one per day. Each tasting leads to a different literary creation, each entry beginning with a description of the honey in terms that will be familiar to wine connoisseurs: “Day 3–Sag Harbor, NY, Early Spring Honey,” which has a color “pale and clear as snowmelt” and the smell “cool sugar crystals,” but also brings to mind “a stingless jellyfish I once held in my hand in Oman.” The taste? “…like the end of winter…[when] you can still see clumps of snow on the ground and the air is heavy with damp…” The differences between the types of honey allow El-Mohtar to move back and forth between the poetic and the more casually contemporary, with the experiment of the tasting as the unifying structure. A perfect gift, a hidden treasure, a delight for the senses.

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KATIE BURTON, who joined us in September 2015, is a solicitor in London and now an aspiring journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

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One comment

  1. This sounds perfect and I know at least three people who NEED this book for the winter holidays. Thanks for reviewing it and bringing it to my attention.

    As you pointed out, food writing is an art form in itself and it sounds like El-Mohtar has mastered both that form and the story-telling form. Sweet!

    I’m glad bees feature prominently since catastrophic colony collapse is still an issue in the US. It helps us to remember…

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