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The Death of Bees: A Novel Hardcover – January 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (January 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062209841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062209849
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (324 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Marnie and Nelly have just buried their parents in the garden behind the Glasgow housing development where they live. Their father, Gene, was a drug addict attracted to young girls. Their mother, Izzy, was a boozer who paid little attention to the care and safety of her daughters. Gene died of dubious causes, and Izzy killed herself in grief. The girls are better off without their parents, and they know it. The challenge is to stay out of the way of the authorities for a year until Marnie turns 16 and will be legally able to take guardianship of her sister. Their nosy neighbor, Lennie, a homosexual whose partner has recently died, leaving him bereft and at loose ends, provides their only stability. But Lennie is curious about the whereabouts of their parents. As awful as he knows them to be, they can’t really have abandoned their daughters for an extended vacation in Turkey, can they? That’s what the girls tell him and anyone else who asks, until their secrets start to unravel. O’Donnell’s finely drawn characters display the full palette of human flaws and potential. Told in the alternating voices of Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie, this beautifully written page-turner will have readers fretting about what will become of the girls. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“In this first novel she pulls off the unusual pairing of grisly and touching.” (New York Times)

“O’Donnell walks a fine line, describing appalling events without ever allowing the novel to lose its warm heart....The Death of Bees is that rare thing: a family-values black comedy.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Wild, witty and as funny as it is unsettling. The Death of Bees is really about the strength of sisters, the sparkle of imagination and how even the most motley of half lives can somehow coalesce into a shining whole.” (Houston Chronicle)

“O’Donnell’s finely drawn characters display the full palette of human flaws and potential. Told in the alternating voices of Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie, this beautifully written page-turner will have readers fretting about what will become of the girls.” (Booklist (starred review))

“[A] chiller told in three voices which will intrigue readers to the last pages…O’Donnell has done a masterful job of sketching her characters…The end is largely unexpected and highly dramatic, but at the same time is the perfect ending to this chilling tale…[a] brilliant book.” (Examiner (Northern California))

“With characters and voices the remind me of other strong debut novels (like Fates Will Find Their Way and Vaclav and Lena), this book will appeal to readers who like a strong voice, dark humor, and compelling story lines told in a literary yet accessible way.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Lisa O’Donnell, an award-winning screenwriter, grabs the reader from the get-go...” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

“The author brilliantly paints the characters’ best traits through the eyes of the other characters, and their worst traits through their own voices.” (RT Book Reviews)

“O’Donnell’s wildly original debut examines the intricacies of betrayal and loyalty within one family and their effects on two vulnerable young girls…With a gritty but redemptive take on family and the price of secrets, O’Donnell’s debut will be well-received by fans of mainstream literature and Scottish noir mysteries alike.” (Shelf Awareness)

“The sisters and Lennie narrate alternating chapters, moving the story along at a fast clip....The difference between the sisters in terms of personality and maturity puts them at odds despite their shared fear of discovery. But their resilience suggests hope for their blighted lives.” (Publishers Weekly (boxed review))

“In more ways than the first line, The Death of Bees reminds me of Donoghue’s Room. Maybe it’s because both authors originated from the United Kingdom. Maybe it’s because both stories carry a darkness brightened only by the innocence of the main characters. (Spencer Daily Reporter)

“The quirky characters and thrilling plotlines will leave readers anxious to find out what will become of the girls. This poignant, compelling, and hopeful tale teaches readers that a desperate situation can always be alleviated by reaching out to others.” (The Hub)

“This is a sweet, funny book filled with two sister’s unrelenting love for each other and their determination to stay together at all costs…it is a good read and if you are interested in being taken on a crazy ride, this is the book for you.” (Bibliophage)

“As a gothic novel and a psychological look at the effects of trauma, it had verve and nerve…O’Donnell knows how to keep a reader engaged, and her sympathy -- and hope -- for her characters tempers what could have been a sordid tale.” (Columbus Dispatch)

“Quirky characters with distinct voices enliven this sometimes grim and often funny coming-of-age story in the vein of Karen Russell’s best seller Swamplandia! O’Donnell’s debut is sure to be a winner.” (Library Journal)

“An unusual coming-of-age novel that features two sisters who survive years of abuse and neglect....The author’s experience as a screenwriter is most definitely apparent, as the reader always hears the voices and can visualize the dramatic, sometimes appallingly grim scenes. Recommended.” (Kirkus Reviews)

The Death of Bees is completely addictive. A beautiful and darkly funny story of two sisters building a fantasy within a nightmare.” (Alison Espach, author of The Adults)

The Death of Bees is compelling stuff, engaging the emotions from the first page and quickly becoming almost impossible to put down.” (Herald (Scotland))

“As the action reaches a feverish climax…dark comedy is replaced by nerve-shredding tension…the reader is thoroughly caught up in the emotional trials and tribulations of two unlikely heroines….Warm without being cozy, explicit without being shocking, and emotive without being schmaltzy…a powerful coming-of-age tale…” (Scotsman)

“This vibrantly-imagined novel, by turns hilarious and appalling, is hard to resist.” (Daily Mail (London))

“Mixing The Ladykillers with Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House… O’Donnell adeptly balances caustic humour and compassion.” (Guardian)

The Death of Bees steadily draws you into its characters’ emotional lives.” (Financial Times)

“The most original and incredible piece of writing I’ve come across in years.” (Helen Fitzgerald, author of Dead Lovely)

“Warm without being cozy, explicit without being shocking, and emotive without being schmaltzy . . . a powerful coming-of-age tale.” (Scotsman)

“We loved this novel and think you will, too…The Death of Bees gives us one of the most memorable protagonists in recent fiction.” (Ladies’ Home Journal, Book Club)

More About the Author

Lisa O'Donnell winner of The Orange Prize for New Screenwriters with her screenplay The Wedding Gift in 2000. Lisa was also nominated for the Dennis Potter New Writers Award in the same year. She moved to Los Angeles with her family in 2006, penning her first novel The Death of Bees in 2010.

Customer Reviews

The characters were interesting and the story flowed very well!
lyssa45252
Until...... The story is told in chapters alternating through the three main characters.
Luanne Ollivier
This was one of those books that grabs you from the very first page!
Cynthia H.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In THE DEATH OF BEES, which is told in diary-like vignettes by straight-A student Marnie, her violin prodigy sister Nelly, and elderly neighbor Lennie, morbid humor borders on darkness of a total eclipse. Marnie conveys, "Today is Christmas Eve. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."

The dead unwed parents are scurrilous drug dealer/user Gene and ditzy Izzy, a product of abuse and neglect who perpetuates the cycle on her teen daughters. Both are losers extraordinaire, and on the government dole, in Glasgow, Scotland. There's ambiguity as to who smothered Gene with Nelly's "pillow by his head and good golly Marnie had pushed it over his face." Or did she? Was Gene in Nelly's bed? And why did Izzy hang herself in the garden shed with a suspiciously soiled sheet? After all, Marnie mulls, "I should have stopped Gene when I had the chance. It never occurred to me he'd go after Nelly, we're so different."

Predictably, the girls' lies catch up with them, and they fear placement in foster care by the "social." They tell their "perv" neighbor that Gene and Izzy are in Turkey, but Lennie conjectures that the sisters are abandoned and takes them in, providing the only love they've ever known. Do the girls need him, or does he, in life's ebb, need them?

Much is told in Marnie's ribald vernacular (snog means kiss, tickety-boo is going well), countered by pubescent Nelly's aloof affectations from Bette Davis films. A "foible of Nelly's is how she talks. She sounds like the queen of England most of the time." And Lennie, an old chap who conceals a horrid deed from a criminal misstep, learns of what happened to Gene and Izzy and can be trusted to keep the siblings' secret...uh, buried.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Cathe Fein Olson VINE VOICE on November 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When 15-year-old Marnie and 12-year-old Nellie's junkie parents die, the girls bury them in the backyard. They didn't want to leave their home and really they were used to being on their own. But with a nosy (albeit well-meaning) neighbor and a dog who is determined to dig, not to mention the drug lord to whom their dad owes money, how long will they be able to keep their secret.

I'm all about characters when it comes to books. I need to feel like I can see them and hear them and, of course, I need to care about them . . . and I definitely did in this book. And the characters were original. The voice of brilliant, tough, mixed-up Marnie . . . kept me turning the pages wanting to find out what was going to happen to her. I couldn't put the book down. I highly recommend this book for older teens (sex, drugs, language) and adults.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Miss Bonnie on January 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am 15. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."

Launching right into the heart of the story, Marnie and Nelly bury their parents in the backyard after their father suffocates and their mothers hangs herself. With both parents gone the girls are left completely alone. Living in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland, Marnie makes a hasty decision to bury them both in the garden in order to avoid being placed into foster care. When Marnie turns 16 she can legally care for her sister so they just need to stay under the radar for one year. But between their curious but concerned neighbor and his inquisitive dog with a penchant for digging in their garden, a drug dealer their father owes money to, and a grandfather that wants to find his daughter their carefully constructed web of lies slowly begins to deteriorate.

Having lived with their parents misconduct their entire lives, finding their dead bodies didn't have the emotional impact that would be typical for most people. Marnie had already been taking care of her and her sister for years so not having their parents there really wasn't new. Except they were still there. Kind of. They were just in the garden now, buried under the lavender bushes.

It wasn't until later that I connected the dots and the references to the sexual abuse from their father. The author manages to indirectly reference the abuse both girls received from their father without going into unnecessary detail but I almost missed it entirely. The only indication given of this abuse was the lasting impacts both girls exhibit (i.e. Marnie's drinking and drug problems and lack of disregard for sleeping with married men and Nelly's ongoing night terrors.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a book which, during the first twenty pages or so, I expected to very much dislike and have to write one of my rare negative reviews. It had far more gutter language than I thought necessary, and of course the initial description of Marnie and Nelly attempting to dispose of their parents' bodies and then clean up after it was utterly appalling and gruesome. However, once the basic plot premise was established, and the wonderful character Lennie was introduced, the story really took off, and I found myself completely engaged.

The book is an extremely fast read. For people who find themselves put off by lengthy narrative descriptions, this is precisely the type of story to delight. Many of the vignettes, as O'Donnell switches with lightning swiftness from one "voice" to another, occupy less than a full page, or at most two or three pages. Yet despite this rapid switching back and forth, somehow the author maintains a continuity of narrative that is remarkable.

If I have any criticism of this book, it is the fact that the peripheral characters, with the exception of Vlado, uniformly come off as pretty much non-entities and/or irredeemably evil. Although towards the end Izzy and Gene are perhaps perceived by Marnie as having at one point been young and in love, there is really no depth to that perception. And although a "happy ending" is provided in the last page, it is a little bit skimpy compared to the utter grimness of the events leading up to it.
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