The Death of Bees – Book Review

DeathOfBeesI suppose I’ve always taken care of us really. I was changing nappies at five years old and shopping at seven, cleaning and doing laundry as soon as I knew my way to the launderette and pushing Nelly about in her wee buggy when I was six. They used to call me wee Maw around the towers, that’s how useless Gene and Izzy were. They just never showed up for anything and it was always left to me and left to Nelly when she got old enough. They were never there for us, they were absent, at least now we know where they are. – from The Death of Bees, page 9 -

Marnie and Nelly’s parents, Gene and Izzy, are buried in the back yard. Not quite deep enough not to be disturbed by the neighbor’s dog, but deep enough to to stay hidden from the social workers who might want to put the two girls in foster care. Marnie is nearly sixteen years old, tough as nails and sexually promiscuous, while Nelly at age thirteen sees the world in a unique Asperger-like way. Very quickly their neighbor, Lennie (grieving for his lost lover and stigmatized as a child molester), notices that Gene and Izzy are absent. He takes the girls under his wing and offers them a substitute home. Soon friends begin to ask tough questions, and a long lost grandfather shows up wondering where his daughter has gone off to. Clinging to each other, Marnie and Nelly must navigate a world of drugs, dysfunction, and neglect to find their way to a brighter future.

The Death of Bees is narrated in the singular voices of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie. It is dark, profane, and shocking. The characters, though well developed, are not terribly likeable except for the gifted Nelly. It seems that everyone in this novel has major issues – they are drug dealers, manipulators, child molesters, and disturbed individuals. Author Lisa O’Donnell includes a bit of black humor, but not enough to rescue the despairing tone of the story. I found myself desperate for some light in this dark novel about two young sisters raised by negligent and abusive parents and eventually left to depend on the kindness of questionable adults. I wanted so much to see some redemption, but was left feeling that the lives of Marnie and Nelly were not really going to get much better as they walked into their future.

There is a bit of mystery in the novel – what exactly happened to Izzy and Gene? Why do they end up dead? But, ultimately, I found I did not care enough about them to really be interested in solving the mystery.

Overall, I found the  plot of the book to be thin. It was necessary to suspend reality to believe all the twists and turns.

The Death of Bees is not without its strengths. The narrative moves well with the alternating points of view, and the writing is fluid. But ultimately, those strengths were unable to redeem the book for me – it was just too dark and left me feeling disheartened rather than hopeful.

Although I cannot recommend The Death of Bees, there were plenty of readers who found much to love about the novel. Please check out their reviews by following the links below.


Other reviews of this book:

Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Mrs. Q. Book Addict
Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Broken Teepee
A Patchwork of Books
Walking With Nora
Kritters Ramblings
Unabridged Chick
Julz Reads
A Novel Toybox
A Reader of Fictions
Reflections of a Bookaholic

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.


Notable Books Challenge 2013

Although a perpetual challenge, The Notable Books Challenge asks that participants set yearly goals. This year I hope to read at least 6 books from the lists.

Visit the dedicated blog to see reviews of Notable Books or to join the challenge.

Here is what I read in 2013:

Here are some of the books I either own, or would like to read in 2013:

  • Arcadia by Lauren Groff (from 2012 NYT Most Notable AND Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2012)
  • Canada by Richard Ford (from 2012 NYT Most Notable AND Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2012)
  • The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli (from 2012 NYT Most Notable)
  • In One Person by John Irving (from 2012 NYT Most Notable)
  • A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (from 2012 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich (from 2012 NYT Most Notable AND Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2012)
  • The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (from 2012 NYT Most Notable AND Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2012)
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (from 2012 NYT Most Notable)
  • Silent House by Orhan Pamuk (from 2012 NYT Most Notable)
  • Bound, by Antonya Nelson (from 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick (from 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu (from 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes (from 2011 ALA Notable AND 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • Sourland: Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates (from 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Surrendered, by Chang-rae Lee (from 2011 ALA Notable AND 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell (from 2011 ALA Notable AND 2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Book Of Night Women, by Marion James (from 2010 Tournament of Books)
  • Under the Dome, by Stephen King (from 2010 Tournament of Books)
  • The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (from 2009 NYT Most Notable, AND 2010 Tournament of Books)
  • Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie (from 2010 Tournament of Books)
  • Woodsburner, by John Pipkin (from Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2009)
  • The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (from Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2009)
  • The Lost City of Z, by David Grann (from 2009 NYT Most Notable, 2009 PW Best Books, 2010 ALA Notable, AND Christian Science Monitor Best Books 2009)
  • The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine (from 2009 ALA Notable Books)
  • American Rust, by Philipp Meyer (from 2009 NYT Most Notable)
  • A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (from 2010 ALA Notable, AND 2008 NYT Most Notable)
  • Heyday, by Kurt Anderson (from Christian Science Monitor Bests – 2007)
  • The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer (from 2007 Christian Science Monitor Best Books AND NYT Most Notable-2007)
  • The Likeness, by Tana French (from 2008 PW Best Books)
  • Day, by A.L. Kennedy (from 2008 PW Best Books)
  • The Boat, by Nam Le (from 2008 PW Best Books and 2008 NYT Most Notable)
  • Away, by Amy Bloom (from 2008 ALA Notable Books)
  • The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig (from 2007 ALA Notable Books)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Art of Fielding by by Chad Harbach (2011 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes (2011 NYT Most Notable)
  • A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, by Caroline Moorehead (2011 NYT Most Notable)
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss (2010 NYT Most Notable)
  • Every Man Dies Alone, By Hans Fallada; translated by Michael Hoffman (2009 NYT Most Notable)
  • The Other by David Gutterson (2008 NYT Most Notable)
  • There But For The by Ali Smith (2011 PW Best Books)