Friday 1 February 2013

Book review : The Death of Bees - Lisa O'Donnell

Many people speak about having the odd skeleton in their closet, but not many have two actual skeletons in their back garden. Not just any old skeletons either. The rotting corpses of their dead parents. The opening page of the book sets the tone : “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.”

The Death of Bees tells the heart-breaking story of Marnie, 15 going on 50, trying to survive in a world that has never given her a break, and her younger sister Nelly. Nelly loves playing the violin and speaks in a very affected tone using vocabulary that is more suited to a Billy Bunter comic strip than her rough Glaswegian housing estate but it’s hard to tell if she is not quite right in the head or if this is just a coping strategy to mentally escape the traumatic world she lives in.

But The Death of Bees isn’t just about neglected children from a broken home – the children and neighbours, indeed the whole of society, seem to be broken. People do whatever they need to do to get by and kindness – as well as abuse – is often to be found in unlikely places. Social Services quite reasonably decide that the girls will be better with their only living blood relative, their long-lost grandfather, rather then the registered sex offender next door, but this just sets off a whole new chain of abuse and suffering.
The end of the book is one of hope. It’s not a happy ending – there is too much sadness and trauma for everyone to skip gaily off into the sunset – but it is a new beginning that may help heal old wounds and offer closure for most of the characters that seem to deserve it.

It’s a hauntingly poignant book, surprisingly filled with dark humour, and the fact that it presents such shockingly violent events in such a matter-of-fact way just goes to make them even more powerful. The narration passes from character to character, each of them completing the others with their very different but essentially unified voice. It's a book that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.

Star rating : 5/5

RRP : £12.99

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (2 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062209841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062209849
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Salome Effect - James Sajo

Book review : All Fall Down - Louise Voss & Mark Edwards

Book review : Stay Close To Me - Helen Warner


  1. This sounds like a good book, I will have to look out for it.

  2. I'd need to be in the right frame of mind to read this one, Cheryl. Thanks for linking it in.


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