The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

Another book review post, so soon after the last one… sorry about that. There will be quite a few of them over the next few months while I complete the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge. I’ve already read 5 books for it, but I’m only just getting round to writing my second review…

I read this book for the category “Read two books with antonyms in the title”, which is worth 30 points (review of a book with “birth” in the title to follow).

book2The plot:
Today is Christmas Eve. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved“.

When their drug-addict parents both die within a few days of each other, instead of notifying the authorities, 15-year-old Marnie and 12-year-old Nelly decide to bury them in the back garden. If anyone asks, they’ll say they’ve gone to Turkey… after all, it’s not the first time Izzy and Gene have gone on holiday leaving their daughters to fend for themselves. And if they tell the truth, they’ll be taken into care and probably separated. If they can only keep up the pretence for a year, until Marnie turns 16 and can become her sister’s legal guardian, everything will be alright! Lonely old neighbour, Lennie, who is still mourning the loss of his lover, comes to suspect that the girls are not telling the truth. Assuming that their parents have abandoned them, he takes them in, providing the only love that the two have ever known. Over time, the three become something like a family. But soon enough, the sisters’ friends, teachers and the authorities starting asking tougher and tougher questions, and maintaining the lie becomes more and more difficult…

The story, which is set on a housing estate in Glasgow, is told alternately from the viewpoint’s of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie.

My review:
I loved this book! Yes, the author does tend to rely quite a bit on coincidences to keep the plot going, especially towards the end (would that person really have just happened to turn up there at just that moment?), but I enjoyed the book enough to suspend belief on those few points. And I can definitely imagine many of the events in the book happening on a rough council estate anywhere in the UK (I can’t comment on Glasgow specifically, having never actually been thre!).  Sometimes, books written from different perspectives can be confusing and annoying, but in this case I thought O’Donnell did a good job of getting each character’s voice right, and I was able to relate to all of them. Being a book about teenagers (Nelly turns 30 during the story), there is, of course, an element of coming of age, and both girls change during the course of the novel. Polar opposites at the start, world weary and cynical Marnie starts to soften and realise that there are people who are about her and can be trusted, while Nelly, who starts off as a vulnerable and slightly odd child, grows up and learns to look out for herself a bit more. The book is brutally honest, disturbing, sad and fairly morbid at times, but parts of it actually managed to make me smile. Marnie is such a character and her way of describing things is occasionally brilliant (or “pure dead brilliant, as the Glaswegians would say). If you have a problem with bad language, drug taking (and selling), underage sex and (married!) adults sleeping with minors this is not the book for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it. For a first novel, this is excellent and I can’t wait to see what Lisa O’Donnell comes up with next. Oh, I should probably also add… the part where they bury the dad’s body is pretty graphic (think fluids!) so if you’ve got  a weak stomach, this book may not be for you…

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10 thoughts on “The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

  1. I’m not sure if my comment posted the first time. So:

    This book sounds excellent! I lived in Glasgow for a few months so I’d love to read a book that takes place there, even though I didn’t experience the rougher parts of Glasgow.

    1. It was awaiting approval – I always moderate first-time commenters. I’ll delete the original comment so it isn’t there twice 🙂

      One of my friends in England used to live in the roughest street in our small town. I can definitely imagine some of the things in this book happening there!

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