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The Death of Bees: A Novel Paperback – October 22, 2013
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“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))
From the Back Cover
Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved.
Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Maryhill housing estate isn't grand, the girls do have each other.
As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon, the sisters' friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.
Written with ferce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.
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The older girl, Marnie, hopes that she can maintain the fantasy that the parents are just out on one of their usual irresponsible larks until she turns sixteen and can legally make decisions for herself and her sister. In the meantime she works at sketchy jobs for strange people to keep the two of them fed, always in fear of the social work department. They both attend school and keep their secret to themselves, managing to fool even the gay sex offender who lives next door. He turns out to be a hero where one is seriously needed. The author has cleverly included a certain amount of grizzly and hilarious detail, and a villain who could turn out to be a savior as well as a savior who could turn out to be a villain. Although this sounds really gritty, and it is, it is also funny and strangely positive.
There is a lot to be learned about the parents of the two girls and how the daughters managed to become so self-sufficient. The younger girl, 12 year old Nellie, is a brilliant musician but really strange, and speaks in a stilted Victorian English, while the older girl is also brilliant but very savvy in a 21st century way. They don’t always get along, but they desperately care for and protect one another.
The story is told in the voices of each character, Marnie and Nellie, and the next door neighbor, Lennie. The sections are short and back each other up with details not shared with anyone but the reader. Although the story is engrossing and the characters are fascinating the moral imperatives of parenting, and our responsibilities to ourselves and others are underlying themes. Yes, it does take a village. Do read this unusual and disarming book.