I 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
A Patchwork of Books
Walking With Nora
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.