Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994
Alan Hollinghurst is better at bees than Oscar Wilde. On the opening page of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde has them ‘shouldering their way through the long un-mown grass’. A bee must never be allowed to ‘shoulder’. Later that afternoon, Dorian Gray, alarmed by Lord Henry Wotton’s graphic talk of youth’s inevitable degeneration, drops a lilac blossom that he has been ‘feverishly’ sniffing. Bee numero due appears, taking most of a paragraph to ‘scramble all over the stellated globe of the tiny blossoms’ and further interrogate the ‘stained trumpet of a Tyrian convolvulus’. Here again, when you’re talking about bee-legs and their prehensile dealings with plant tissue, ‘scramble’ doesn’t quite do the trick.