The Death of Bees by Lisa

death-of-beesOne of the huge benefits of moving to Scotland is that I’ve become more familiar with Scottish literature in general and writers like Lisa O’Donnell in particular. She was at the Edinburgh Book Festival my first year here and The Death of Bees was getting huge buzz (yeah, I know what i did there), but for some reason, it has taken me until now to read it. And it was brilliant.

I don’t normally quote from books on my blog, but here are the opening lines.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

Is that great or what? And it is fairly emblematic of the rest of the novel. It is quick and to the point. No words are wasted. O’Donnell comes from a screenwriting background and I think it shows. Her dialogue was quick and revealing. She tells things as they are, without getting fancy about it.

The story is told from three perspectives and with three very different voices. There is Marnie, the protagonist who takes charge of the story. Nelly, her younger and fairly odd sister. Where Marnie is old beyond her years, Nelly remains frighteningly naive at times. And the old neighbor Lenny, who seeks to build a family of sorts out of ruins. There is nothing sentimental about any of the voices, and yet great feeling is shown.

Who would like this book? Do you like your humor dark? Because The Life of Bees is dark. It is hard to find things to laugh about when you’re telling the story of neglected children, druggies and dead parents, but O’Donnell does it really well. It is funnier than her second novel Closed Doors (review) and I think I liked The Life of Bees more. Both of O’Donnell’s books remind me of another young Scottish writer, Jenni Fagan and her book The Panopticon (review). Both authors tell stories that I would normally find rather depressing, but for some reason it works for them.

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

love-ninaSummer seems to be taking over my life, so this review is going to be quick and dirty. That is no slight on Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, but the sun is shining and I’ve got to get out there.

Love, Nina is a collection of letters Nina wrote to her sister in the 1980s while she was nannying in London. That might not sound great, but it is. Nina is un-selfconsciously funny in a way that can only be compared to Adrian Mole. Her day-to-day life in London is seriously more interesting than my life at any point. Her attempts at cooking sounds woefully inadequate and yet the family she’s working for don’t seem to mind. And everything is commented upon by Alan Bennett and other London luminaries of the day.

The most impressive thing about Love, Nina is that it is comprised of missives to her sister. The writing is brilliant for someone who was not trying to impress anyone. At the time, Nina surely didn’t know that she would one day go onto publish these letters, but the writing is so clear and concise with scathing observations.

Love, Nina has been on my TBR for quite some time now. It was a smash hit in the UK. But the reason I’ve now read it is because I will be seeing Stibbe at the Edinburgh Book Festival where she will be talking about her new novel. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say, especially since the new novel is purported to be rather autobiographical.

Who would like this book? I can sum this up in a few key words: British, 1980s, funny, Adrian Mole. If that gets your attention, then this book is for you.

The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart

The-visionist-ukI walked in to the library earlier this week and The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart leaped out at me, calling my name. I remember a few months back this was making the rounds on some of my favorite blogs and getting good reviews. It’s set in the Shaker community and deals with questions of belief. If that’s not up my alley, then I don’t know what is. So it seemed fated that I read it. Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

rise-and-fall-great-powersI know, it’s taken me forever to get to The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. What can I say, I was saving it for the perfect moment. The Imperfectionists is a hard book to follow, so I wanted to be in the right mood to give Rachman a little leg up. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers was a really good book, it wasn’t The Imperfectionists, but it was a solid read. Continue reading