The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

The past remains with us, in all kinds of unexpected ways. If we haven’t made peace with it, it will come back again and again.


Yes. We had to wait for over 400 pages for what I think is the central theme of the book. This is the story of the Barnes family and their slow unravelling following the 2008 crash. Dickie the father, his wife Imelda and their children Cass and PJ each struggle with their own lives but none is able to communicate effectively with each other to share their troubles.

So, how far do you have to go back to find the source of the trauma? Back to the financial crash and flood of 2008 when everything fell apart and people started to talk about you? Back to when you got married and a bee stung you so that you didn’t lift your veil on your wedding day? Back to when you were raped at university? Back to the death of your brother? Back to your childhood with a violent father and brutal brothers? Further? As the book proceeds more and more secrets are revealed particularly during the sections where each character tells the story from their own point of view. This is a very effective section with each character contained within their own section as they were in their lives unable to break out and change the journey.

It’s a long book – too long – and I lost the will to live at one point when Dickie was with PJ and Victor in the woods building a shelter in survival style for a catastrophe. The thing is they were preparing for something that had started but not yet fully arrived whilst all around them the catastrophe of the family falling apart was happening right under their noses.

It’s the ending that really challenges as it is ambiguous – I hate that! As the gun is lined up to shoot at someone we get the lines about doing all of this for love and you are left unsure about whether the gun is used or not. Does it lead us right back to the beginning with the opening line that mentions a family who killed someone in the next town? I can believe that the ending could be either way – shoot or not. There are plenty of issues in the book that don’t happen. PJ being threatened by a boy with a hammer who will club him to death because his mother was diddled out of money by Dickie when her car was ‘mended’ in the garage. The threat was real but it didn’t happen. Are they aiming to shoot squirrels or people? Plenty of squirrels were captured during the story and squirrels are mentioned often by most of the characters. I still don’t quite understand that motif.

This ending makes it a perfect book for book club but only if people can get to the end.

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