The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees is the debut novel by Lisa O’Donnell and won her the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2013. She’s also a talented screenwriter, being nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award and winning the Orange Prize for New Screenwriters for her screenplay The Wedding Gift.
The Death of Bees is the story of sisters Nelly and Marnie. When their neglectful mother finds their equally disappointing father dead, she walks to the garden shed and hangs herself. Leaving Marnie (15) and Nelly (12) to fend for themselves. The girls decide to cover up the death of their parents until Marnie turns 16 and can legally care for her little sister.
They bury their father in the garden and hide their mother in the coal bunker alongside the house. Due to their parent’s continual neglect, they hope not too many questions will be asked about their parent’s location. Little do they know, that the one person their parents warned them from, could actually become their best friend. Their neighbour and registered sex offender, Lennie.
This book does have a brilliantly dark beginning and the description of the girls moving their parent’s bodies is quite brutal in parts. The fact that they can successfully hide their parents’ deaths highlights how used they are to caring for themselves. They’re obviously adept to coping with whatever situation is thrown at them.
I really enjoyed the introduction to this book but started to worry about 30 pages in. This is where the storyline was mostly based around Marnie. There were hints at sexual abuse by her father, descriptions of drug taking as well as underage sex and drinking. I worried this was going to become a depressing book for the sake of it. However; it branched out and each section was written from either Marnie, Nelly or Lennie’s perspective. My concerns were completely quashed. Although there are incredibly dark moments in this book, based on the girls’ pasts, it never becomes overwhelmingly glum.
You could gain the wrong impression from the blurb on the rear of the book; that the neighbour Lennie is a sinister character. This is definitely not the case. He takes on the parental role and gives the girls the first real love and stability they have ever known. The chapters written from his perspective give beautiful insights into the girls’ behaviour. Even though he had been caught with an underage male prostitute, the pain that comes across from the loss of his partner makes you feel for him immensely.
The girls in this story are sisters but they couldn’t be more different. Marnie is a teenager with a rough exterior but heart of gold. Nelly displays some sort of mental or emotional disorder which is never fully explained. She is very articulate, adult in her speech and musically gifted, but seems to struggle relating to people and growing up. These differences add to their wonderful characters and I loved how the same situations are approached from their differing outlooks. Some might say that jumping from character to character is a bit confusing but as they’re such strong individuals, I really enjoyed it.
This novel is accessible, has stunning characters, is heartwarming without being too mushy and is great for either men or women. Overall I loved The Death of Bees!
If you like The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell you’ll love Mosquitoland by David Arnold.