Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Death of Bees

The Death of BeesAuthor: Lisa O’ Donnell
Publication Date: January 2, 2013
Publisher: Harper

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

“Another little foible of Nelly’s is how she talks. She sounds like the queen of England most of the time. She doesn’t say mum, she says mother and she doesn’t say dad, she says father. She has sentences in her head like “What the devil’s going on?” and “What on earth’s all this hullabaloo?” I’ve also heard her say “confounded” and “good golly.” Drives me nuts. Constantly having to protect her from head cases who think she’s taking the piss. She also wears spectacles, round ones like Harry Potter; she’s recently developed an obsession with him and wears them like they’re real glasses, except they’re not. Last Christmas Izzy got her a magic cloak, but she only wears it around the house and one time to take out the rubbish.” – Hardback Copy pg. 7

“A graceful woman our grammy, she said so. Carried age like cashmere, her scent drifting in whispers and folds wherever she went, unlike our mother, who preferred tight clothes and fun drinks, sooking them up with straws and slurps.” – Hardback Copy pg. 33

“They’re gone. The parents. Over Christmas if you can believe it. God knows where they are. They left for three weeks last time. Those girls are too young to be left alone, they’re just children and yet not children. The oldest one sits out back almost every night, smoking mostly. Smoking and staring into absence. You want to reach out sometimes, but you daren’t. I’d probably frighten them. Their parents certainly told them what to think of us. Two years we’ve been neighbors and not so much as a tired smile. I don’t blame them. I’m the boogeyman round these parts, branded and known. You’d be ashamed of me, Joseph, so ashamed.” – Hardback Copy pg. 34

“When the music stops, the curtains twitch, the netting pulls and pinches. He’s watching us from his windows, in a cardigan warm and woolen. He waters, clips, and prunes, all the times surveying, but I see him. He doesn’t know that. No one knows that and I’ll catch him. I’ll catch the fellow.” – Hardback Copy pg. 40

Wow! This book was nothing like what I had expected. This book is so eccentric and strange in its unveiling that I don’t even know where to start. I think the blurb does a fine job enough: “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.” Yeah, about that…CRAZY! This is a debut novel, and I would just like everyone to keep that in mind. The writing and the storyline are so twisted and just plain mess with your mind. The story follows sisters Marnie and Nelly along with their rather odd neighbor, Lennie. All readers know at the beginning of the story is that the girls have been without parents for some time now and that they are buried in the backyard. We do not begin to find out what exactly happened until later in the story.

The novel switches perspectives quite a lot, as the chapters are pretty short and sweet. The chapters are told from the perspectives of Marnie, Nelly, and their neighbor Lennie. Marnie is the oldest sibling and she seems to be the more reliable narrator. Nelly is a little unreliable and readers will experience a bit of self-questioning when it comes to Nelly’s character. For example, in Nelly’s chapter she claims that Marnie killed their father, while in Marnie’s chapter she claims that Nelly didn’t realize what she was doing. So at times you will have to stop and really think about what you have read. I loved being able to be inside both of their minds and see how they each viewed the scenario differently. I found myself wanting answers and becoming impatient with both girls because they weren’t giving me details quick enough.

At first I felt really sorry for these girls and I was only imagining what awful parents they had, then I started to see Marnie’s character unfold and I was shocked to say the least. Marnie is far more experienced for her age than I ever was and she talks about things in a most vulgar way at times. I know that a lot of this had to do with the situations that their parents had put them into, but her character just seemed very hard and cold. She was a bit frozen if you ask me. It was almost as if her childhood had been ripped away from her and once you understand how her parents treated her and how they behaved you will understand this a bit more clearly. This book was just so creepy and twisted at times that I just couldn’t believe how bluntly some scenes were laid out. I wouldn’t change it, however, and I think that O’Donnell has a knack for writing things so vividly that it almost makes you question your own sanity.

This family was very dysfunctional and probably a little bit psychotic. I will say that I do not recommend this book to everyone, but that it is definitely worth a try. I loved it and would read it again if I had the time, but it is filled with a lot of R rated material. I feel like I should warn readers up front. There is nothing that is not taking place in the world all around us, but just to be on the safe side I thought I might share this information with you all. There are scenes of sexuality, drug intake, and even murder. The writing is so raw and moving and therefore that is why I say give it a fair chance!

***Thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased review***

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