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School-gate mums: Is 2013's Fifty Shades a novel by Gill Hornby called The Hive?

  • @johnhenrywalsh

We’ve had it up to here with the wizards-and-magic fiction genre. Ditto the romantic-vampires-and-werewolves one.

We’re over the sado-masochistic-millionaire-boyfriend genre (so last year) although there are signs of  an over-50s romcom trend exploiting the grey pound.

But where will publishers find a new bestseller genre? One answer came last weekend.

The Hive, a novel by Gill Hornby, is published on Thursday to a hubbub of excitement. The bidding  war between publishers  was reportedly vicious.

The Telegraph called it “the most hyped release in fiction this spring.” Reviews were good and the publishers Little Brown sent 50 free copies to Mumsnet to start the ball rolling. The book is set mainly at the gates of a school, St Ambrose Primary, at which local mothers meet to drop off and pick up their uniformed charges, to gossip and bitch and invite each other to lunch.

The stage is set for plot lines full of female friendship and betrayal, flighty husbands, car boot sales and lesbian tea.

Ms Hornby has a fine literary pedigree, being the sister of Nick Hornby and the wife of Robert Harris, not to mention being convenor of the annual River Café Quiz.

She’s scored a bullseye in identifying a key territory for class warfare, power struggles, sexual dynamics and other ingredients of a Good Read.

As the novelist Amanda Craig noted in her Independent review: “The school gate is the modern equivalent of the village well.” (And the parish pump, the local council chamber and the water cooler.)   

It’s not, however, the first sighting of the phenomenon.

Last October, The School Gates by Nicola May was published, by the author herself: a tale of interparental dynamics at Featherstone Primary School in fictional Denbury, starring yummy mummies, earth mothers, tragic au pairs and at least one gay dad. It may have been announced with less fanfare than The Hive and have picked up mainly online reviews, but it kick-started a mini-genre that’s consolidated by the arrival of Ms Hornby.

Stand by for a flood of me-too titles along the same lines: When The Bell Goes, Enemy at the Gates, Primary School for Scandal