Author: Lisa O'Donnell
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:
A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel-a coming-of-age story with the strong voice and powerful resonance of Swamplandia! and The Secret Life of Bees-in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.
Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.
Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Hazlehurst housing estate isn't grand, they do have each other. Besides, it's only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.
As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he's not the only one who suspects something isn't right. Soon, the sisters' friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene's nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.
Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.
First Sentence: "Eugene Doyle. Born 19 June 1972. Died 17 December 2010, aged thirty-eight."
One of my very favorite narrative styles is multiple first person points of view, but finding one done correctly happens rarely. O'Donnell succeeds with her first novel. The Death of Bees rotates through three perspectives: the two sisters, Marnie and Nelly, and their neighbor, Lennie. Each one of them has a very distinct personality and thought pattern. Telling them apart is quite simple. The narratives are stream of consciousness, and, thus, occasionally quite strange, like the section in which Nelly is singing a song to herself. Though not generally a fan of stream of consciousness style writing, O'Donnell wields this method well.
Marnie and Nelly's parents are useless, on the dole and drug-addicted, the father abusive. When both parents die, in somewhat sketchy circumstances, Marnie and Nelly do the obvious thing: bury them in the background in the middle of winter. Well, actually, the ground's really hard and they got tired, so they just get Gene buried and leave Izzy in the shed for a while. They plant strong-smelling lavender atop Gene's grave, in an effort to cover the stench. Because they bury the body too shallowly, and the other not at all, the neighbor's dog keeps coming over and trying to find the bodies, a continual source of worry for the girls.
Many of the scenes in The Death of Bees, particularly early on, are of a fairly graphic nature. The body-disposal chapters will haunt me for quite a while. If you cannot handle descriptions of fluids and ickiness, this book may not be for you. This is comedy of the very darkest colour. The book also includes drug use, statutory rape, abuse, and probably some other touchy subjects I'm forgetting to list.
Marnie and Nelly were thinking when they buried their parents in the backyard; they did not want to be put into foster care, an inevitability, so better to pretend their parents are on a perpetual vacation. Lennie, their nosy but well-intentioned neighbor notices that they seem to be all alone. An old man living alone after the death of his lover and harassed because he was caught trying to solicit a male prostitute, Lennie desperately desires company, and he adopts the two girls, unofficially serving as guardian and grandfather to them. He gives them the first real parenting they've probably ever gotten.
Marnie is a brilliant girl, pulling straight As, despite the fact that she never does homework and runs with a bad crowd. She's a sassy one, a both entertaining and tragic figure. With all her life experience, it's very difficult to fathom that she's only fifteen. Her sister, Nelly, on the other hand, acts incredibly posh, an affectation she picked up who knows where. She plays the violin with great skill and looks lovely, but is clearly touched in the head. Though Marnie makes a lot of disastrously terrible life choices, Nelly's the one you really have to worry about, because there is some seriously crazy stuff happening in her mind.
O'Donnell's debut plumbs dark depths of humanity, showing both the best and worst of human interaction. This is an ideal read for those with a slightly morbid sense of humor.
Favorite Quote: "My guidance teacher Mrs. MacLeod (middle-aged yah trying to do good among the peasants of Maryhill) said the only thing keeping me from the abyss of total delinquency is my gift for learning. Like Nelly I appear to possess qualities she believes to be wasted on a girl 'so utterly destructive in temperament'—she actually wrote that in my report—meaning I smoke and drink and have abortions, actually one abortion, but still, I have an A average that I maintain with little or no effort on my part and they despise me for it, mostly because they can't take credit for it; in other words intelligence should be the reward of the virginal nonsmokers of the world, not some morally corrupt teenager with dead junkies in her back garden."