The Bee Sting

Reviewed by Wendy Tucker
by Paul Murray

This is the fourth novel by Irish writer Paul Murray. It was short listed for the Booker Prize 2023 and won The Irish Post Book of the Year 2023. 

It is essentially a tragicomic family saga set in a dull town in Ireland and told in four voices. Murray slips back though time, moving from each section though the mind of each family member as much is revealed and these revelations gather to climax in an unforgettable ending. The great strength of Murray’s writing is his ability to capture, without censure, the minds of the different generations.

Dickie is the father. His lucrative car sales business is failing as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. Dickie inherited the business from his father and, despite his lack of business acumen, it has made the family comfortable. Dickie’s response to this and the state of the world is to go into the woods and build a survival bunker with a renegade handyman.

Imelda, Dickie’s wife, is selling her jewellery on eBay and contemplating an affair. She was the town beauty from an impoverished and brutal home, who married up. Unfortunately, she was stung by a bee on her wedding day and was unwilling to remove her veil and show her very beautiful face. What small things undo us!

Cass is the daughter. She is in her final year of school and desperate to escape to university but lately she is trying to escape with alcohol, a toxic best friend, and a boyfriend is she not sure she likes.

PJ is the twelve-year-old son. He wants to make everything right but is in debt to a sociopathic bully and, unbeknownst to him, is being groomed on the internet.

The voices of the four family members, who despite living together, show us how little they really know or understand each other. 

This is a book about Ireland after the financial crisis, natural catastrophes and climate change but it’s really about the old clichés of loss, love and the ties that bind. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s truthful and it’s very entertaining.