Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

Two sisters bury their reprobate parents in the garden at the start of Scottish author Lisa O'Donnell's fierce and funny first novel, The Death of Bees. The story is set in Glasgow and unfolds in three voices: Nelly is 12, Marnie is 15, and Lennie, their gay next-door neighbour, is 80.

Nelly: "My father, a loathsome, malignant type of a fellow, sat me on his lap in the nighttime. Said he loved me. Later I find him spent, stagnant, unclean, crumpled on an unmade bed. I find my pillow by his head and good golly Marnie had pushed it over his face. And a good ruddy riddance to you, Eugene Doyle."

Lennie: "Made contact with the other side. The youngest mostly. Nelly's her name. I like her. She's such a nice girl, beautifully spoken, smells of clean linen and vanilla, unlike the older one, possessing odours not quite belonging to someone so young in my opinion. Marnie's her name and a very direct young lady she is too. She asked immediately about my past.
'You a perv?' she asked. 'Cause everyone round here says you are.'
I told her the truth."

Marnie: "My guidance teacher Mrs. MacLeod said the only thing keeping me from the abyss of total delinquency is my gift for learning. Like Nelly I apparently possess qualities that she believes to be wasted on a girl 'so utterly destructive in temperament' -- she actually wrote that in my report -- meaning I smoke and drink and have abortions, actually one abortion, but still, I have an A average that I maintain with little or no effort on my part and they despise me for it, mostly because they can't take credit for it; in other words intelligence should be the reward of the virginal nonsmokers of the world, not some morally corrupt teenager with dead junkies in her back garden."

The secrets start to get out of hand. Lennie looks after the girls as much as he can, but the whereabouts of Marnie and Nelly's parents becomes more of an issue as time goes on.

A side character that I liked a lot is one of Marnie's best friends, Kim, who is a dyke.

Lennie: "They're very hard on the lesbians, the straight men; gay men are just irritated by them. I found it amusing the way Kim talked to me, like we were gay comrades, like we were men almost."

Highly recommended.

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