The opening of The Death of Bees in fact the synopsis of the book is such that it is rather in your face –
“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.”
Was I really going to like a book like this, it is not my normal choice but I persevered with Marnie, 15 years old and the whole world on her shoulders. Academically advanced without trying and advanced physically but probably not emotionally as she is desperately unloved. The only person she cares and protects is her younger sister, Nelly.
Nelly is unique. Her language is something of the nineteen thirties, which rather stands out on a Glaswegian council estate in the twenty first century. Nelly wants love and protection as well, but that only comes from her sister Marnie.
Between the two of them, they try and cling together with the after effects of the death and subsequent burial of their parents. Whilst there is gruesome scenes; burying the bodies, the bleach stench of house to hide the smell. There is also subtle comic humour as panic regarding next door neighbour’s dog digging up bits of the bodies and the mass planting of lavender to hide the smell.
But the neighbour’s dog does not give up; neither does the kind neighbour Lennie, who takes it as read that Marnie and Nelly’s parents have gone to Turkey as they tell him. But something does not ring true and Lennie starts to take more of an interest in these two lost girls. He feeds them, keeps them warm and starts to protect them from all those who are asking questions. Revelations about their parents start to haunt Marnie and Nelly, their familial past makes an appearance and it is down to Lennie to provide shelter both physical and emotional. But then as Lennie (and his dog) uncover more, it seems that Marnie and Nelly may no longer be together.
Using these three main characters the author O’Donnell creates a viewpoint in each chapter, as we alternate between the three. Sometimes the chapters are short and precise, others meander as we are taken back through their pasts so a rounder picture is built up as to how the three characters happen to be in the situation they are in now. Funny and dark, is sometimes perhaps an oxymoron but it seems to work in this novel and work well whilst dealing with some rather gritty issues; underage sex, drugs, many forms of abuse. But fundamentally it is about survival and love.
An odd choice of title, which is only really mentioned once in the novel and then is seemingly forgotten it confused me somewhat. That said, this was a great novel and one I would recommend and I look forward to what she may produce next.
The Death of Bees is published by Windmill Paperback.
I had received this novel from the publisher and had just had a quick read of the blurb on the back and put it to one side. However when I received an email from the publisher referring to the book, my interest was piqued, so it moved from the pile of tbr to go next to the bed and pretty quickly after that I was reading it. It was refreshingly different and a real change and sometimes you need it!