A thought-provoking book about family and fortune to read with your book club.
The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie’s once-lucrative car dealership is going under, his wife is frantically selling her jewellery on eBay, and their kids are going off the rails. Where did it all go wrong? How long can this unhappy family wait before they have to face the truth? And will they ever get their happy ending?
Discussion points and questions
- When we meet the Barnes family at the start of The Bee Sting, none of them seem very happy with their lives. Then as the novel unfolds, we learn more about their shared past. Do you think they were ever a happy family?
- The novel takes place mostly in ‘the town’, and we sometimes hear about ‘the next town over’ too. Why are these places not named? And how important is setting to the plot of the novel?
- Each of the four main characters has a different style of narration, and Imelda’s is perhaps the most distinctive style, because it uses almost no punctuation. Why do you think she is written in this way? What did you notice about the other narrators’ use of language?
- The Barnes family wealth comes from a car dealership set up by Maurice. Is this choice of business significant?
- Throughout the novel, we encounter several versions of the same fairytale: a story about a weary traveller who feasts one night with fairy folk and wakes the next morning to find the world unrecognisable. What do you think this story means? How does it relate to the novel?
- ‘That man is nothing but a crook, her mother said. She couldn’t stand Big Mike, with his smirk, and his investments, and his Gucci cowboy boots. And him only a yahoo, that grew up on handouts from the Lions! But he knew how to use his loaf, which was more than she could say for some people.’
- Why is Big Mike interested in Imelda? How does he compare to Dickie – and to Frank?
- Dickie and Cassandra are born a generation apart, but both grapple with questions about sexuality, identity, and what is expected of them by their peers. How much has Ireland changed in the past thirty years? Is Cass any freer from the pressures of ‘being normal’ than Dickie was?
- ‘How can a drought cause a flood? PJ whispers. How can everything that happens just make something worse happen?’
- Discuss the presence of climate anxiety in the novel.
- ‘I see a hay bale in a field she said, and then, It’s burning.’
- This is a novel about consequences, and the extent to which our past determines our future. Is there a difference between inevitable cause & effect and ‘fate’? Which of the two are we seeing in The Bee Sting?
- The ending of the novel is open to interpretation – what do you think happened? And why doesn’t the author simply tell us, one way or the other?
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