“The Death of Bees” by Lisa O’Donnell


Wikipedia tells us both that this is the author’s debut novel (published in 2013), also that it won the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

The story is told through multiple viewpoints, and focuses on how the death of two drug addicts affects their daughters Marnie and Nelly and the people around them. On discovering the dead bodies of their parents, the two sisters decide against reporting the deaths to the police (and so bringing in Social Services) so instead bury the bodies themselves – rather inexpertly, as it later turns out. The sisters’ lies are initially believed but the truth is uncovered by their elderly neighbour, who takes them in and attempts to care for them. Despite his kindness, the two girls are haunted by the ghosts of their past whilst the precarious balance of the present is threatened by a long-lost grandfather.

We read this in May 2016, when eight members attended the meeting. Opinions were divided between those who thought it was an ultimately unsatisfying beach read and those who enjoyed it. Criticisms were that the story was unrealistic and badly researched, also that Nelly was completely unbelievable. Those making more favourable comments said that it was an enjoyable, even hilarious page-turner.

Bill missed the meeting but emailed some thoughts and bee-related puns:

I’ll be unable to join you tonight: you won’t have me droning on, then. I enjoyed the book, but found the theme a bit repetitive after the initial sting. The normal low-life stereotypes (why are drug addicts always depicted as wasters: most drugs are used by the middle classes, just as they use alcohol) had some redeeming qualities here, and out of the chaos and grit of the girls lives there flowed a little honey. I found no humour in the novel, apart from the way Nelly spoke, and thought, like a character from a Bette Davies movie – her favourite. Nelly was an endearing 12 year-old, and I felt very fond of her. The sisters’ relationship formed the strength of the book.
Scores from eleven of our readers ranged widely, from 3 up to 9, giving an average of 5.8.
Malcolm was interested in the title, wondering if the “death of bees” referred in any way to the environmental idea that because humankind depends so much on insects for pollination, if bees died out then we would all be doomed. But if this is the author’s intention, do the “bees” refer to the dead parents or is it a broader reference to the breakdown in the society within which the two girls live?
None of our other readers had found any such depth, however it seems that the author did intend a metaphor:
The Bees are Izzy and Gene. On page 16 Nelly becomes frantic about the bees on account of the crazy sales woman, but it’s not about the bees really, it’s about what they’ve planted in the garden. Eventually Marnie articulates her own frustration and says “I don’t know a fucking thing about the honey bees so stop asking” Marnie says “She stopped then, hasn’t mentioned the bees since, not one word, but I know she still thinks about them.” Meaning Gene and Izzy.



Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: