Beekeeping for Beginners, Laurie R King

After my successful experience with the audiobook Bossypants, I decided I should try out some more authors before I committed to downloading a few for the two fourteen hour flights I have in October. Since I had to go to San Diego last weekend anyway, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore my options. I called my mother (she used to write reviews for the magazine AudioFile and has been an avid listener for fifteen years at least) to get some advice, and although I couldn’t find all of the titles she recommended either at the library (why does the library make it so difficult to download audio books?!) or through iTunes, I did manage to pick a few, including a short story about Sherlock Holmes by King.

King has written quite a few of these stories, and the one recommended to me was more of a background piece than a stand-alone novel; however, the fortunate thing about Sherlock Holmes is that, given all the interpretations on the original character, it isn’t too difficult to pick up anywhere and follow along. The only real necessity is familiarity with the characters, and thanks to the recent fascination with Holmes on big screen and small, many people who have never read the original text have a solid background in that regard.

I have to admit that both the BBC’s brilliant version and the more comical Downey/Law interpretation have piqued my interest right along with the masses, and although I generally don’t have much interest in detective stories, I now find myself drawn into the stories of Sherlock Holmes’ compelling intellect. One of things I find especially interesting, and which is particularly relevant to my experience listening to Beekeeping for Beginners (which introduces a woman named Mary Russell as his apprentice, and apparently, a later love interest) is how differently Holmes is painted, not as a detective, but as a romantic character by different writers.

My own fascination with this part of his personality has only increased after the most recent depictions of Holmes lean hard on the idea that his relationship with Watson is more than friendship. Fans, especially of the BBC show, are intensely invested in these two men as a couple, and although I certainly see what they see (the tenderness exhibited by both Watson and Holmes, the love and protection and support provided by each at unexpected moments, the enjoyment in each other’s company over all others), I love even more the idea of Sherlock as a man uninterested in romantic attachments of any kind.

Perhaps it’s because I have a number of friends with little to no interest in finding a life partner that I find it almost offensive that we place desires in Holmes simply because, I believe, we want him to be a little more relatable.  People are marginalized in many ways because of who they want to love and how they want to love them, but it’s also true that we shun the idea that anyone might want a life without sexual attachments. This doesn’t mean such people don’t seek deep friendships or work just as hard to build community – it’s just that a part of them also chooses to remain separate.

My experiences working with children on the Autistic spectrum has given me continuous insight into the complexity of the ability to develop “typical” relationships. Please understand I’m not suggesting that people uninterested in romantic relationships are on that spectrum, but rather, that working with those children opened my mind to the huge number of possibilities outside of my own narrow band of experiences. When I read or watch stories about Sherlock Holmes, I often feel, as I did a bit in Beekeeping for Beginners, that we are trying to project a softness in him that simply doesn’t exist. The magic of the character is, for me at least, in his highly rational, unparalleled intellect. Those uncanny deductions that allow writers to create complex mysteries around him also keep Holmes apart from the rest of the world.

I finally went to Wikipedia to see if I could confirm any of my own impressions about the man, and here is what I found under “Relationships”:

Although Holmes appears to show initial interest in some female clients, Watson says he inevitably “manifested no further interest in the client when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems”. Holmes finds their youth, beauty, and energy (and the cases they bring him) invigorating, distinct from any romantic interest. These episodes show Holmes possesses a degree of charm; yet apart from the case of Irene Adler (“A Scandal in Bohemia”), there is no indication of a serious or long-term interest. Watson states that Holmes has an “aversion to women” but “a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]”. Holmes states, “I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind”; in fact, he finds “the motives of women… so inscrutable…. How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes;… their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin”.

Since the person fans most suspect Sherlock of being in love with is, in fact, Watson, this understanding of his relationships with women makes sense. If he is in love with another man, of course he wouldn’t pursue these characters (although King certainly believes that he could and would do so). Why though, does he have to be in love with Watson? Why can he not just be grateful (and a little off-balance) at the appearance of a devoted friend in his life?

I think it all comes back to our desire to relate more intimately with this brilliant and remote character. We do this with every book we read, with every experience we hear about – everything and everyone means more to us when we can find a connection to ourselves – but Holmes is meant to be an enigma. We are supposed to relate to Watson or to Mrs. Hudson, and through them, we experience the fascination and frustrations that come with caring about a person like Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes acts without warning, experiences deep depressions, uses drugs to alleviate his distress, and can be infuriating when on a case. He is truthful to a fault and has a brain that works at such an unpredictably deep level that for most people he encounters (and this includes us as readers), we will be put off, whether we intend to be or not. He is a difficult, brilliant man and even when he is voiced by the warm-throated Robert Ian MacKenzie, he is not the chap you meet up with at a pub. He is a deeply flawed super hero with the ability to protect us from horrors we might not ever see coming. We need men and women like that, but we don’t always need to make those people exactly like us.

Learn more about Laurie R King here.

3 thoughts on “Beekeeping for Beginners, Laurie R King

  1. I’ve long had a vibe from reading (quite literally) every A. Conan Doyle wrote on the man. Unfortunately, despite an inordinate number of attempts to duplicate or even create a facsimile of Holmes, it has only been in the last few years that someone finally has succeeded in capturing the essence of a Holmes-like character. I would submit that Dr. Sheldon Cooper is the Sherlock Holmes of the Modern Age.

    Holmes, like Cooper, always struck me as being so narcissistic that sex would not be of interest. After all, why would he want to occupy his obviously superior mental facilities with something as mundane and pedestrian as carnal pursuits. Come to think of it, that might be the perfect actor to portray him should “Young Sherlock Holmes” be remade.

    1. I trust you on this one because I have not read enough of Doyle’s original work to take a firm stand one way or another (especially against an expert like you!). Of course, I happen to think Cooper is one television’s best portrayals of an autistic genius, and I hate to see him played for laughs (often cruelly) on The Big Bang Theory. I would be much more interested to see him tweak that character to turn him into a young Holmes. It would be fascinating to see if the audience could find a way to accept a highly-rational, asexual portrayal of the detective without trying to make him something else.

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