BOOK TOUR REVIEW: The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees
by Lisa O’Donnell
“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 Maryhill housing estate isn’t grand, the girls do have each other. Besides, it’s only a 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? Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon enough, the sisters’ friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher 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 one another.
MY THOUGHTS: 5 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Fifteen year old Marnie and twelve year old Nelly are sisters who’ve managed to get through life up to this point, even though the parental guidance they have had so far has been sorely lacking. One day, the girls come home to find their father dead, and their mother takes her own life after. The sisters know that if it is discovered they are orphans, they will be taken away and probably separated from each other…so they hide the bodies in their own backyard.
Somehow, the girls find an unlikely companion in elderly next door neighbor Lennie. His loneliness and their need to be cared for are a perfect match. But things can never just go smoothly. Between the girls’ acting out and appearances from people they’d rather forget, the following year becomes tumultuous. Marnie and Nelly will discover that it’s best for secrets, like bodies, to stay buried.
Whew…I had to take a moment after finishing this book to get my thoughts and my emotions together. And it wasn’t the first time–while reading, I had to stop a few times because things were getting so intense. But I had to keep turning the pages to know what would happen to the girls.
This novel was rich with deeply flawed, but deeply human characters that you couldn’t help but connect with. Marnie is the older sister, and vacillates between periods of hovering over Nelly to take care of her, and neglecting her for days at a time while out on drinking and drug binges. She confuses sex and love, and the way she treats herself is heart-wrenching. Nelly is younger, quieter; she tries to act like horrible things are not happening, and has protected herself with odd habits such as an affected manner of speech, eating the same thing for breakfast every day, and playing violin. Lennie is a gay man, a homebody who rarely leaves the house but has a past he’s ashamed of. The story is told from all three characters’ points of view.
The girls’ parents were drunks and addicts who never cared for them, didn’t worry if they had enough to eat, and emotionally, physically, and possibly sexually abused them. So needless to say, their presence was not missed at all in the household. I imagine the girls had a fleeting moment of freedom, then panic when they realized that even though they never really had parents, their physical proximity was necessary so the girls did not become wards of Scotland. I can’t say I completely agree with the decision to bury the bodies in the backyard; but I understand Marnie’s thought process. Besides, what else could a 15 year old who loves her sister do?
The story-writing itself took a little while for me to get into. All three characters have a particular way of speaking, so it wasn’t hard to tell them apart. But the bulk of the novel is told by Marnie, and her parts tended to consist of long sentences, some of them constructing an entire paragraph. There are also a lot of Scottish (UK?) slang words that I came across and didn’t understand. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out most things from context, though.
The final 50 pages of this book moved so quickly and my heart was flying right along with them. I thought the ending was absolutely perfect, and I sincerely hope that Marnie and Nelly have stellar futures ahead of them. This novel was a superb break from my usual reading fare.
About the Author
Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children. The Death of Bees is her first novel.