Posts Tagged Scotland

The Death of Bees: book review

death of bees

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell. Publisher: Harper (January 2013). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 309 pages. ISBN: 9780062209849.

“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.”

The Death of Bees isn’t a difficult read, moving quite quickly with short sentences, short chapters and rather scrappy yet convincing characters. It’s narrated by three people: 15-year-old Marnie; 12-year-old Nelly and their desolate neighbor Lennie. Sometimes I felt the novel had a YA voice.

Marnie and Nelly struggle at an age where it’s complicated for most girls to develop their identities. Their often absent and drug addled parents leave them too often to fend for themselves. Living in near poverty in a Scottish town, Marnie and Nelly faced unimaginable abuse and neglect. Book smart Marnie earns fantastic grades but often gets in trouble at school for wearing mini-skirts and partying with friends. She has noteworthy friends—one with bipolar disease, a lesbian, a married drug dealer. She tries her best to protect younger sister Nelly, a violin prodigy and avid reader.

As the novel opens it’s unclear whether Marnie killed her parents or not. When neighbor Lennie, himself with a sketchy past (accused sex offender), takes Marnie and Nelly under his care, I began to root for the eclectic trio. Maybe Marnie and Nelly could make it out of this small town. Will anyone notice the deadbeat parents are missing? Turns out drug dealers want their money. Can sisters Marnie and Nelly truly manage on their own? Western society eventually notices and regulates orphaned or abandoned children.

As more characters impede Marnie and Nelly’s future, the novel hit a few snags. The dog trying to dig up the bodies in the garden seemed straight out of a tired ridiculous comedy. Drags a foot into the house. Is that a foot? Plus too many false endings and near misses when Marnie and Nelly seemed in the clear. Ultimately I wanted The Death of Bees to be darker and more intense.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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book review: the flight of GEMMA HARDY

The Flight of Gemma Hardy , by Margot Livesey. Publisher: Harper Collins (January, 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover, 464 pp.

My mind was as grey and empty as the sky. Everything I wanted—love, a slice of toast, a warm bed, a job, my suitcase—was far, far out of reach.

When a writer decides to re-imagine or update one of the most beloved novels ever – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte—she’d best possess a solid plan and be a quality writer. Margot Livesey, writer in residence at Emerson College, wrote The House on Fortune Street, Homework and Eva Moves the Furniture among other novels. Livesey sets the story of Gemma Hardy in mid-twentieth century Scotland. This enables Gemma to be much more outspoken and bold and aware of the possibilities despite her present station. Like Jane Eyre, Gemma Hardy faces many challenges throughout her early life before ending up as an Au Pair for a wealthy man’s niece on his country estate while he works in London. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is not nearly as gothic and dark as Jane Eyre.

Although born in Scotland, Gemma’s parents [her Scottish mother and Icelandic father] brought her back to Iceland where both parents met tragic deaths while Gemma was still at pre-school age. She finds herself in Scotland with her uncle, her mother’s brother, and his wife, two daughters and son. When her uncle dies, she’s made to feel like a servant and then shipped off to a boarding school as a working student. There she works long hours studying as much as she can and also doing kitchen duties among other chores. It’s quite miserable but Gemma prevails. She’s then hired by the mysterious and brooding Mr. Sinclair to be an au pair to his niece in an estate on the Orkney Islands.

Gemma makes mistakes and quick judgments based on her emotions, youth and inexperience. She and Mr. Sinclair fall for each other. This develops quickly and without the passion and conviction to make the reader feel that this pair aches when apart from each other. In Jane Eyre, the connection between Mr. Rochester and Jane simmers off the pages. Similar to Mr. Rochester, Mr. Sinclair reveals a secret to Gemma and it’s a confounding one. That’s it? I thought. Enough to send the girl running. Another surprise– everywhere Gemma goes someone helps her in an easy, trusting manner.

While a lengthy novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is not a demanding read. For the most part, I enjoyed reading about Gemma’s journey. She’s spirited and plucky and fearless. She values education and understands its necessity to advance in the world. Gemma remains open to learning about new places and ideas. She becomes very interested in her parents’ Iceland. So while some aspects of this updated version of Jane Eyre might fall short, it proves to be an engaging read with appealing character development.

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