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Book Club: The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

I apologise in advance that is so late! I had promised myself that I would read and review our Book Club reads in the same month but unfortunately, November ran away without me and I only managed to finish The Death of Bees way towards the end of the month. So, without further ado, here is my review!

In the first instance, I would like to note why I have used an internet image for this post. Unfortunately, my library copy of this book came with a horrendous cover that almost associated the story with, what the literary world likes to call, 'women's fiction'. I would also like to note that The Death of Bees is not that at all - it's dark, and intense.

 "We have seen death before, Marnie and I, a mountain of ice melting over time, drops of water freezing at your core reminding you every day of that which has vanished, but the despair we know today is a sadness sailing sorrow through every bone and knuckle.”

The Death of Bees follows various perspectives including a pair of sisters and their nosy next door neighbour, Lennie. The novel opens with the sisters burying their parents in the back garden and it is from here, that the narrative grows. Marnie and Nelly are truly unreliable narrators and this is something that I can really get on board with. In addition, their both wonderfully round characters with their own quirks, interests, and downfalls. Marnie is a highly intelligent adolescent tearaway with equally as troubled friends, and Nelly is a creative creature of habit with an impressive penchant for the violin.

I found O'Donnell's writing to be really unique and the book's short, choppy chapters made it incredibly easy to devour in just a single day. You rarely find good literary fiction that is - like The Death of Bees - both beautifully written and fast-paced. I didn't find any perspectives to be any stronger than the others, and I really appreciated this. Often with these kind of stories, you find yourself pining for certain perspectives and sometimes skipping others. 

I'm glad to have been pushed to pick this up as it wouldn't have been something that I would have chosen myself (mainly because of the cover). However, it turned out to be highly enjoyable and I suggest that you give it a go if you like darker narratives.  



Book Club: Morvern Callar by Alan Warner

The second pick for mine and Kirsty's book club (affectionately named Chai und Schaf), is Morvern Callar by Alan Warner. Morvern Callar was recently reissued by Vintage as part of a Scottish classics collection and after reading the blurb (and seeing the cover), I had added it to my TBR straight away. Luckily, Kirsty is very much an advocate of Scottish literature and so it was promptly read. 

The novel follow its namesake Morvern, 'a low-paid employee in the local supermarket in a desolate and beautiful port town in the West of Scotland'. One day she wakes to find that her boyfriend has killed himself and left her with it seems little but a floppy disk and a couple Christmas presents. What ensues is a vivacious romp of moral ambiguity, and as readers we're left wondering what the hell is going on in Morvern's brain. This is where my problems with this novel start. 

In my opinion, this book lacks a certain amount of psychological realism. Obviously, having not been in Morvern's position, I am not one to judge but I couldn't help but feel a little... confused. I cannot go in to specifics without revealing spoilers but I would definitely wager that Morvern's response to events are way past the norm. Something pretty major happens and then it just isn't mentioned again. Ever. The plot does lack a little something but I can somewhat excuse this considering it is a debut novel.

On a positive note, Alan Warner has the most delectable writing style. It's slightly experimental but still ever so easy to read. It is worth noting also that the novel uses a number of refrains that some people may find annoying, for example: 'I used the goldish lighter on a Silk Cut'. Personally I found this quite chilling and perfect for the tone of the book. Despite my issues with plot, I found the novel to be quite fascinating and I do believe that it carries many interesting discussion topics, namely Morvern and Lanna's use of nicknames for all of the town's residents apart from themselves.

It is also interesting that this novel is meant to be read along with music and throughout the book there are 'self-made' playlists from Morvern that fit in with whatever she is doing at said time. In addition, nineties rave music and the rave scene is constantly referenced throughout the book.

This read was suitably unsettling for the Halloween season and I think I may actually be interested in re-reading it at some point. After further research, it seems that Warner wrote a sequel to Morvern Callar, but Kirsty and I have both agreed that this concept is pretty redundant. It's one to check out if you're interested in dark, psychological reads but I would also suggest checking out some of Vintage's other Scottish classics first such as The Dumb House; one that many have been raving about.

Buy via Book Depository