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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2013
The opening of The Death of Bees in fact the synopsis of the book is such that it is rather in your face -

"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."

Was I really going to like a book like this, it is not my normal choice but I persevered with Marnie, 15 years old and the whole world on her shoulders. Academically advanced without trying and advanced physically but probably not emotionally as she is desperately unloved. The only person she cares and protects is her younger sister, Nelly.

Nelly is unique. Her language is something of the nineteen thirties, which rather stands out on a Glaswegian council estate in the twenty first century. Nelly wants love and protection as well, but that only comes from her sister Marnie.

Between the two of them, they try and cling together with the after effects of the death and subsequent burial of their parents. Whilst there is gruesome scenes; burying the bodies, the bleach stench of house to hide the smell. There is also subtle comic humour as panic regarding next door neighbour's dog digging up bits of the bodies and the mass planting of lavender to hide the smell.

But the neighbour's dog does not give up; neither does the kind neighbour Lennie, who takes it as read that Marnie and Nelly's parents have gone to Turkey as they tell him. But something does not ring true and Lennie starts to take more of an interest in these two lost girls. He feeds them, keeps them warm and starts to protect them from all those who are asking questions. Revelations about their parents start to haunt Marnie and Nelly, their familial past makes an appearance and it is down to Lennie to provide shelter both physical and emotional. But then as Lennie (and his dog) uncover more, it seems that Marnie and Nelly may no longer be together.

Using these three main characters the author O'Donnell creates a viewpoint in each chapter, as we alternate between the three. Sometimes the chapters are short and precise, others meander as we are taken back through their pasts so a rounder picture is built up as to how the three characters happen to be in the situation they are in now. Funny and dark, is sometimes perhaps an oxymoron but it seems to work in this novel and work well whilst dealing with some rather gritty issues; underage sex, drugs, many forms of abuse. But fundamentally it is about survival and love.

An odd choice of title, which is only really mentioned once in the novel and then is seemingly forgotten it confused me somewhat. That said, this was a great novel and one I would recommend and I look forward to what she may produce next.
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on 3 January 2013
THE DEATH OF BEES uses three narrators; academically advanced and streetwise fifteen year old Marnie, her 12 year old musical prodigy sister Nelly, whose actions are somewhat reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman and their aging neighbor Lennie a gay man whose one misstep from the straight and narrow has cast him as a pervert in the eyes of society. Told in short chapters utilizing the alternating voices and viewpoints of each, the reader gets a look at what motivates each individual and makes them "tick". Set in a middle/lower class suburb of Maryhill, Scotland this is a multi-layered tale in which author Lisa O'Donnell has aptly depicted actions and language that are in keeping with the circumstances and backgrounds of each individual character.

Suffice to say that this is a story about the various levels of love between individuals and the neglect of children in society today as well as a wonderful character study into what really constitutes despicable behavior and what separates that which is truly odious from that which is undertaken as a matter of survival.

While there are a couple of incidents in the book stretch credibility by being just a little too well-timed and convenient overall this chronicle of the dark secrets being kept by two sisters and their helpful neighbor is absorbing enough to keep readers engaged through the last page. A great opening salvo for this author.
3 1/2 stars
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on 9 January 2013
I hadn't heard of 'The Death of Bees' until it was recommended by GoodReads. Now I'm very glad I downloaded and read it - over the course of a couple of days, as I found it difficult to put down.
On a Glasgow housing scheme, Marnie and Nellie's druggy parents have died within a day of each other, just before Christmas. The story is told through the eyes of 15-year-old Marnie, her 12-year-old sister Nellie, and their neighbour Lennie. Marnie is a intelligent, streetwise and old for her years; Nellie is very different: naive, unworldly, musically gifted, talking in a strange, old-fashioned way probably derived from the period dramas which are among her many obsessions. Lennie is old, gay, lonely, likes cooking and looking after people and becomes close to the seemingly neglected girls. The other characters in the book - Marnie's friends and their parents, the local drug dealer, schoolteachers and others - are well drawn and realistic.
Having buried their parents in the garden, we follow the girls over the course of a year until the satisfying end of the story. I can't help wondering what will become of them!
A few anomalies crop up - the author seems confused between the concepts of foster and residential care for example - but these in no way detract from the story which I found compelling. Quite shocking events and concepts are described in a matter-of-fact way by the girls, who are both very likeable characters, as is Lennie.

I would recommend this book to anyone, no matter what kind of books you usually like to read.
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on 10 August 2013
I found it quite difficult to get into the story just because of the style it's written in. But after a spell, the story starts to grip you. Incredibly sad that two children mange to avoid being cared for by adults for so long.
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on 21 June 2014
The story of two sisters left to fend for themselves when their parents die. This book is seriously dark. Think abusive parents. Think about killing them and burying them in the back yard. Think fifteen year olds having sex with ice cream men who sell drugs . . . Brutal, but not without humour, and most importantly, it’s not without humanity. Just don’t read it before you sleep at night – especially if you have daughters.
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on 19 May 2013
This is a strongly plot-driven book, episodic in nature. I was quickly drawn into the story, engaged by the lively characters and vivid descriptions of their chaotic lives in and around Glasgow. The voice is authentic, revelling in the dark humour so often linked to economic and social hardship, creating moments when you wonder if you should really be laughing at the dreadful experiences of the characters, but knowing they are usually laughing at themselves.
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on 9 October 2013
This was an amazing read. Great plot and the characters were real to me. The chapters are written from the view of each character and it's done so well it's like it actually has been written by different authors. Definitely recommend.
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on 21 April 2014
FANTASTIC FANTASTIC FANTASTIC!! What a great read. Great for my 16 & 20 yr old daughters too. A grown up Jacqueline Wilson type - gritty reality tale. Not too long either. Some fascinating social commentary about who we judge as suitable to bring up children So glad I read this. Excellent.
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" 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."

With opening lines like these I was immediately hooked and drawn into the story of fifteen year old Marnie, her twelve year old sister Nelly and their neighbour Lennie all of whom take turns to narrate this quirky, original tale. Marnie and Nelly's parents were never really there for them anyway, they were more concerned with drugs than childcare, so their sudden deaths could be some sort of release for the girls. However, the burden of keeping their deaths secret weighs heavily on their young shoulders and you wonder how long they can keep the truth buried...

Not for the faint-hearted this is a short, snappy narrative set in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1980. It would be an understatement to state that Marnie and Nelly have had a tough life so far - they epitomise dysfunctionality to such an extent that suspension of disbelief is, at times, a prerequisite. Marnie is the street-wise one, sexually active, drinking, doing drugs whilst Nelly lives in her own little world (a lot more pleasant than the real one!), playing Bach on her violin, eating cornflakes with Coke and employing a distinctly archaic turn of phrase,

"Marnie has taken up with a boy. He must be a very humorous chap for she giggles and gasps at everything he has to say. She is positively smitten with the fellow. I have no interest in boys. They smell of socks and oil. I wish they'd look to their books."

Nelly seems very much on the autistic spectrum but that's just part of her personality and I find it hard to turn off my Aspie Radar!

With the use of three different narrators, it is easy to differentiate between the characters and hear each individual voice. Amidst the darkness there is a dry humour which makes Marnie and Nelly all the more likeable and you are rooting for them to forge a better life for themselves hoping that the bonds of sisterhood will overcome their diametrically opposed temperaments. This is an unusual, earthy coming of age tale with characters which will engage and stay with you long after you turn the final page.

An excellent debut novel, highly recommended.
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on 24 January 2015
The story is set on an impoverished council estate in Glasgow.
15 year old Marnie and her 12 year old sister, Nelly, are the daughter's of a pair of drug addicts who don't work and basically leave Marnie and Nelly to fend for themselves.
One day Marnie discovers her father dead in his bedroom and then finds her mother has hung herself in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Terrified that social services will step in and place both her and her sister in foster care she decides that she and Nelly must keep their parents death a secret and bury them in the back garden. Marnie believes that they only have to survive on their own until she turns 16, and then legally she is out of reach of the social services and is legitimately permitted to care for her younger sister.
It's not long before nosey next door neighbour, Lennie, realises something is seriously wrong, having not seen the parents around for weeks. Lennie being a lonely, elderly man starved of company and something of a social pariah feels compelled to reach out to the two girls and strikes up a friendship with them. He eventually takes them in and cares for them. When he questions the girls on the whereabouts of their parents, Marnie simply says that they've gone on holiday to Turkey.
The tension builds as Marnie's school friends begin to ask after her parents, Nelly has reoccurring nightmares when she sleeps over at Lennies and then she has a sudden breakdown at school. To make things worse Lennies dog keeps escaping into Marnie and Nelly's garden, where it repeatedly sniffs and digs away at their parents shallow graves! Marnie is desperately trying to hold everything together.
The unwanted appearance of the girls grandfather adds fuel to the fire as he is adamant to locate their mother. Marnie and Nelly maintain their lie of the holiday to Turkey.
Lennie's health starts to fail, Nelly begins drawing attention to herself by playing truant and Marnie suffers emotional problems from the sudden end of a relationship to her drug addicted boyfriend.
It seems as if things are starting to crumble in around them. Can the girls survive until Marnie is 16..? Will the bodies be discovered..?
The story moves from the perspectives of the 3 central characters - Marnie, Nelly and Lennie.
Though the plight of the girls is terrible and the author portrays their lives before the parents death while attempting to grow up in an extremely poor part of Glasgow, as grim, a huge amount of humour is to be found in the story. Mainly due to the fact that Marnie and Nelly are like chalk and cheese.
Marnie deals with things by drinking, taking drugs, having sex with a married man, swearing and being generally mouthy with her school mates. Her sister drives her to distraction with her unconventional mannerisms.
Nelly is eccentric, withdrawn, stays away from boys and plays the violin. Her manner of speaking is similar to a latter day aristocrat. Thus completely incongruous with her sister and all the kids she's at school with.
This makes for highly humorous reading and works excellently combined with the suspenseful story line.
The result is an insightful slice of working class Glasgow where children are forced to survive rather than grow.
It is a great, gritty, brutal, yet funny suspense novel.
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