Shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, 'The Bee Sting' by Paul Murray is a scintillating piece of storytelling revolving round the lives of four members of an affluent Irish family as their comfortable lives come tumbling down around them.
- best book club reads -
THE BEE STING
BY PAUL MURRAY
Shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, 'The Bee Sting' by Paul Murray is a scintillating piece of storytelling revolving round the lives of four members of an affluent Irish family as their comfortable lives come tumbling down around them. A luminous and exhilarating read.
We soon discover that life for Dickie Barnes is not going as planned. His car business is failing due to the economic downturn. His teenage daughter Cassie who hopes to follow Dickie’s own path and go to Trinity University seems to be going off the rails and drinking and 12-year-old PJ, his not particularly cool son, is being bullied and ostracised. Even his beautiful and loyal wife Imelda seems preoccupied and angry with him for spoiling their comfortable life. Having grown up in poverty and an abusive environment she certainly doesn’t want to return to her previous existence of shame and insecurity.
The book becomes tragically comical as it seems the whole family live in terror. Dickie’s life further unravels as Murray introduces his and Imelda’s back story and why are there no photos of Dickie and Imelda’s wedding? Dickie’s answer to his own predicament and the family’s imminent crisis is to spend every minute of every day building an apocalypse proof bunker with the local oddball handyman called Victor, even roping in poor helpless PJ on the basis that when the impending climate change judgement day arrives they will take retreat to their underground bolthole. Meanwhile Cassie dislikes everyone and everything (including her own boyfriend!) with the exception of her best friend Elaine, a rich good time party girl. This destructive relationship takes on a pivotal role later in the book.
As the relationship between Dickie and Imelda worsens, PJ dreads being sent to boarding school and so seeks refuge in an online friend who invites him to stay in Dublin. As for his faithful wife Imelda, she is haunted by ghosts from her past, which all seems to stem from the death of Dickie’s brother Frank, and the infamous bee sting on her wedding day. But it is the ghosts from the past which cause their paths to converge with horrifying consequences.
Murray has a gift for impressive storytelling, often finding humour in the darkest moments of tragedy. He also has a wonderful knack of switching the rhythm of his writing using different punctuation. The sections told through Imelda contain no fullstops and are like a stream of consciousness, illustrating her lack of education and impulsive actions. The last section of the book switches to third person. It is a nail-biting finish and certainly has a sting in the tail as the Barnes family’s past comes to a head and they hurtle towards their dramatic finale. It makes for a tense and brilliant climax and is sure to leave you and your book club with many questions.
At 643 pages long it is an epic story but Murray has certainly created a highly entertaining rollercoaster of a read which will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.