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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Death of Bees

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees

Author: Lisa O'Donnell
Pages: 336
Publisher: Harper
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."

For those of you who don't know, I have a sizable obsession with British pop culture. When I signed up for the tour, I, admittedly, didn't know how British this book is, but when I figured that out, oh my, was I ever excited. As odd as this book is, I can compare it to a couple of things. To get The Death of Bees, combine the darker, more disturbing family elements of Shameless with the murder and hijinks of Keeping Mum. If you appreciate the sort of dark humour that Brits excel at, do not miss O'Donnell's brilliantly odd debut.

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.

Rating: 4/5

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."

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Blogger Jenni said...

I really like British comedy. For some reason it cracks me up so much. Like that show Fawlty Towers oh oh and the movie Death at a Funeral (not the AMerican remake, the original Brit one) anyway...

I love that this sounds so odd, an entire chapter of a girl singer herself a song? That sounds pretty neat I have to say. I also have come to really like multiple POV novels, so I think I will definitely give this one a go!

January 24, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It's definitely weird, but I could see you enjoying it. I'm sending my copy to Kara, not because I didn't like it (cause I did obvi) but I don't know that it's a reread book and I think she'll love it.

Oh, also, the Brits are just fantastic. I just need to find a hot British dude with good teeth to marry. Realistic goal, right?

January 24, 2013 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Nice review.

Nice blog as well...I like your posts. NEW FOLLOWER.

Silver's Reviews

January 24, 2013 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read this one a few weeks ago and loved it. Definitely for those with a morbid sense of humor. :) Great review!

January 24, 2013 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Lisa O'Donnell said...

Thanks for the review and Christina if you find a "hot British dude with good teeth" I'll fight you for him :)

Best Wishes
Lisa O'Donnell author

January 24, 2013 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Okay, I'm intrigued. (The quote sealed the deal.) I need to make a note to myself to see if I can find the audiobook for this (if there is one). Great review!

January 24, 2013 at 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like a really intriguing book! Adding it to my TBR list post-haste.

January 24, 2013 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I have to fight for him? This is getting even more difficult. Plus, if you're anything like your characters, you are seriously scrappy. BUT you don't find a guy like that every day (or any day in my experience thus far), so COME AT ME BRO.


January 24, 2013 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I don't know if there is an audio, but this would be SPECTACULAR.

January 24, 2013 at 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can think of a few people with that morbid sense of humor you mention ... sounds like this would be a great gift book for them!

Thanks for being on the tour.

January 26, 2013 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger trish said...

I really like that quote you used!

I hadn't really thought of it before, but I think I do have a morbid sense of humor. I see you said in a previous comment you think the audio would be great, so maybe I'll check that out!

January 27, 2013 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh yay! I'm glad I was on the tour. This book was a delightful change of pace.

January 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm not sure if there is an audio, but the different accents would be a treat if they do it up in style!

January 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Mariya said...

I've been told I have a morbid sense of humor so I think this book is definitely for me. Plus, the cover is beautiful and I'm a sucker for awesome covers.

February 2, 2013 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

The cover is even more gorgeous in person!

February 4, 2013 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Arnel Sweizz said...

Wow ... just ... wow. This sounds like a story that will stick with me for a long time, and one I should start reading RIGHT NOW.

Arnel Sweizz (Seattle Divorce Lawyer)

June 14, 2013 at 6:38 AM  

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