”The Bee Sting”, by Paul Murray

Murray’s 2010 boarding school tragicomedy “Skippy Dies” was the first novel I read end-to-end on my phone—a long process, with its 672 pages consumed in 20-30 minute chunks. It’s a great book. I was left with the impression that I could, on a good day and with a strong wind, write similarly good sentences, full of puerile jokes that encompass physics references, but that I would never be able to pile them up and achieve the sort of world-building required to birth a novel. My career as a novelist was over before it had begun. This was not a surprise to anyone else.

Murray achieves a similar end product here but now the sentences, the phrasing, the word choices are far beyond what I could dream of achieving. Murray’s ability to so credibly voice each character, bringing their thoughts to life while always advancing the plot in interesting ways, is a marvel.

The story revolves around the Barnes family. Father Dickie still lives in the shadow of his successful father and charismatic younger brother, and the family business that he runs is in chaos in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. His wife, Imelda, lives a life of stoic discontentment having escaped her own horrendous childhood. Daughter Cass is headed to university in the company of Elaine, with whom she shares a toxic friendship. 12-year-old son PJ suffers quietly (and painfully) in the vain hope that he can exert any control over the family’s fortunes. The family members take turns narrating the story, which also steps back in time, particularly to the set of events that culminated in the titular bee sting. If you enjoy glib comparisons, think Irish Franzen. If I read a better book this year it will be a miracle.

From cover of Paul Murray’s “The Bee Sting”.




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