The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Things are not going well for the Barnes family. Dickie has barely managed to keep his father’s once lucrative car dealership afloat after the financial crash; his wife Imelda hides her inner turmoil by acting like a superficial ditz; eldest child Cassandra is on the verge of a breakdown, feeling stifled by their small, gossipy Irish town; and PJ, the baby of the family, is planning something drastic to get his parents’ attention. But all is not what it seems, and slowly we come to understand the secrets that have shaped this family’s life.

I really enjoyed this – it’s an exemplar of a complex family drama told in a clever way. With each section, we peel back a new layer and begin to understand everything we already know differently. The characters become increasingly complex, although they’re deeply flawed and at times very unlikeable. I loved the prose; the sharp, observational dryness reminded me a lot of Zadie Smith, and so did the focus on multiple members of the same dysfunctional family. The Barnes family is a complex organism indeed! The plotting of this one was great; there are so many little details strewn throughout the text that all come together satisfyingly. I enjoyed the ambiguity of the ending. Imelda was my favourite character, which is, I think, very me: she’s a maligned woman who is concealing a great deal of emotional complexity and a shrewd understanding of power.

Should it make the shortlist? I think yes! While I love an unconventional novel, this is a fairly straightforward narrative told with impeccable skill and a lot of pizzazz.

Paul Murray was born in 1975 in Dublin. He is the author of three novels, including An Evening of Long Goodbyes, which was short-listed for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies (2010) was long-listed for the Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Mark and the Void (2015) was the joint winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was named one of Time’s Top 10 Fiction Books of the year.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Aug. 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 656 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0374600309
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0374600303