The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

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.


  1. I don’t live in Scotland, but I’ve been promoting The Death of Bees all around the world last year. I loved this book! Closed doors is much more a standard, fine novel. But The Death of Bees is amazing. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  2. Pingback: July Round Up | 52 books or bust

  3. I am curious about this one. The premise is kind of interesting. I’m not usually won over by dark humor because I usually find it very sad, still I’ll be looking forward to reading this.

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