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Mary’s Pick of the Week: The Bee Sting

“So many of the bad things that happen in the world come from people pretending to be something they’re not.”

Paul Murray’s thrilling family saga (and 2023 Booker Prize Shortlist contender), The Bee Sting, is told with unvarnished truth and lacerating wit and is not for the faint of heart.  Readers who’ve enjoyed his darkly comic Skippy Dies are in for a treat.

The Barnes family has enjoyed decades of prosperity in a small village outside Dublin but are unable to escape the fallout from the 2008 financial crash. The four immediate members of the family direct the narrative, each seamlessly taking a turn in their own chapters. 

Dickie is on the brink of losing a lucrative family business, a garage and repair shop that his father started.  He is preoccupied with the construction of an end-of-days bunker in the woods behind his home, distracting him from his financial issues, and from a series of secrets he harbors that’s about to upend the entire family.

His wife Imelda is a local beauty and former conspicuous consumer.  Still mourning the tragic death of her true love Frankie, who happened to be Dickie’s brother, Imelda seeks to reclaim the wealth she enjoyed by discreetly selling off all her possessions. So concerned is she with her lowered status, she fails to see that her children are also suffering.

While Cass longs for greener pastures at Trinity College, her friendship with the inconsistent Elaine keeps her alternately anxious and besotted. Coupled with that, her fear of leaving the village and of rejection appear in a spate of self-destructive events. 

As the youngest member of the family, PJ has secrets of his own.  He’s being savagely bullied by the child of a vengeful garage customer. While everyone else is thoroughly self-absorbed, PJ fights to keep his family together, absorbing blows both mental and physical.

Murray writes each character with such distinction that the reader can easily recognize who’s speaking, even without the chapter headings, as one delves deeper into their dysfunction. Along the way, there are moments of laughter and overwhelming emotion. Ultimately, the author rewards careful readers with signs of what’s to come, but never pitches softballs, leading to an ending that’s as satisfying as it is crushing. 

Photo credit Cormac Scully

Categories: Books and More

Tags: Books and More

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