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  • Published: 8 June 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241984413
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 656

The Bee Sting




Irresistibly funny, wise and thought-provoking - a tragicomic tour de force about family, fortune, and the struggle to be a good person when the world is in meltdown...

The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie's once-lucrative car business is going under - but rather than face the music, he's spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker with a renegade handyman. His exasperated wife Imelda is selling off her jewellery on eBay and half-heartedly dodging the attentions of fast-talking cattle farmer Big Mike, while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way to her final exams. And twelve-year-old PJ, in debt to local sociopath 'Ears' Moran, is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home.

Where did it all go wrong? A patch of ice on the road, a casual favour to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil - can a single moment of bad luck change the direction of a life? And if the story has already been written - is there still time to find a happy ending?

  • Published: 8 June 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241984413
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 656

About the author

Paul Murray

Date: 2005-01-07
Paul Murray, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, is a writer and diplomat who has served in London, Tokyo, Ottawa, New York and Seoul. His biography, A Fantastic Journey: The Life and Literature of Lafcadio Hearn (1993), won the Koizumi Yakumo Literary Prize (Japan) in 1995. He has published and lectured in Europe, the USA and Asia.

Paul Murray was born in 1975. He studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin. He has a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Paul was a former bookseller. An Evening of Long Goodbyes was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2003 and was nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award. 

Also by Paul Murray

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Praise for The Bee Sting

I experienced just about every possible human emotion while reading The Bee Sting, and at an intensity I have not felt with a work of fiction for a long time. Its ambition and scale are astonishing, and as a sheer technical feat of storytelling it is remarkable. Reading it, I was constantly reminded of what the novel as an artform is capable of, and what it is for. It might be a bold claim to make, of the author of Skippy Dies, that this new book is the best thing Paul Murray has ever done - but I'm making it anyway, because it's true

Mark O'Connell, author of 'To Be A Machine'

This novel is as generous, expansive, and glorious as a cathedral, as intimate as pillow-talk, and as funny and heartbreaking as nothing you've read before. Paul Murray may just be the most spellbinding storyteller writing today. A magisterial piece of work

Neel Mukherjee, author of 'The Lives of Others'

The tale of a dysfunctional family trying to hold things together. It's a thing of beauty, a novel that will fill your heart

Alex Preston, Observer, 'Fiction to look out for in 2023'

Paul Murray is my favourite young Irish novelist and The Bee Sting confirms all of his talents. Settle in for a hilarious whirlwind of a familial socioeconomic misadventure as only Murray would write it

Gary Shteyngart, author of 'Super Sad True Love Story'

The Bee Sting is the finest novel that Murray has yet written and will surely be one of the books of 2023 . . . It bears comparison to the brilliant comic writer Jonathan Coe... But Murray is his own writer, capable of keeping a multi-faceted and compulsive plot moving along with alacrity and confidence, while seamlessly blending drama, comedy and heartbreak... For 13 years, Paul Murray has been best known as the author of Skippy Dies. That, I suspect, is about to change

Sunday Independent

The idea of being swept up and spat out by falsehoods runs through much of Murray's work . . . There are storylines about doomsday preppers and local GAA teams; themes of class, economic collapse, ecological catastrophe . . . Murray's conversations have an expansive tendency. A single thread can lead him outwards in a web of connections, metaphors, jokes, before he lands smoothly back on the point

Irish Times (Niamh Donnelly)

Expertly foreshadowed and so intricately put together, a brilliantly funny, deeply sad portrait of an Irish family in crisis . . . Murray is triumphantly back on home turf - troubled adolescents, regretful adults, secrets signposted and exquisitely revealed, each line soaked in irony ranging from the gentle to the savage . . . We live though hundreds of pages on tenterhooks, and the suspense and revelations keep coming until the end [...] He is brilliant on fathers and sons, sibling rivalry, grief, self-sabotage and self-denial, as well as the terrible weakness humans have for magical thinking... A tragicomic triumph, you won't read a sadder, truer, funnier novel this year

Guardian (Justine Jordan)

It can't be overstated how purely pleasurable The Bee Sting is to read. Murray's brilliant new novel, about a rural Irish clan, posits the author as Dublin's answer to Jonathan Franzen . . . A 650-page slab of compulsive high-grade entertainment, The Bee Sting oozes pathos while being very funny to boot . . . Murray's observational gifts and A-game phrase-making render almost every page - every line, it sometimes seems - abuzz with fresh and funny insights . . . At its core this is a novel concerned with the ties that bind, secrets and lies, love and loss. They're all here, brought to life with captivating vigour in a first-class performance to cherish

Observer (Anthony Cummins)

No one writes tragicomedy as good as this . . . Both brilliant entertainment and a penetrating look at the human condition, as heavy with pathos as it is rich with humour. And if 650 pages asks a lot of the reader, in this case it more than delivers

Nick Duerden, iNews

Bold [and] expansive . . . Paul Murray is consistently inventive, observant and funny. He is on intimate terms with this preteen boy, this teenage girl, this lost middle-aged man and this semi-educated woman, and he knows how to make them vivid . . . The pages turn rapidly as farce and tragedy converge, the latter threatening to get the upper hand

Times Literary Supplement

Delightfully rackety, raucously funny... The Bee Sting is on a par with Skippy Dies, Murray's most beloved book, and certainly exceeds it in ambition. A masterpiece

Irish Independent

Murray is a natural storyteller who knows when to withhold, to indulge, to surprise. He specialises, like Dickens, in lengthy sagas that are mammoth in scope, generous with detail and backstory, flush with humour and colourful characters, all of it steeped in social realism . . . Ambitious, expansive, hugely entertaining tragicomic fiction

Irish Times (Sarah Gilmartin)

Breathtaking, blackly comic, Murray's style is entirely and distinctively his own . . . Handling the plot as if it were a Rubik cube, [he] gives each character their voice in a carousel of first-person accounts, tracking backwards and into the present . . . The Bee Sting is an immersion in the tragedy of what-might-have-been

Herald (Rosemary Goring)

Carefully paced, brilliantly convincing and helped along by plenty of subtle satire . . . A huge, marbled wagyu steak of a novel that ranges confidently from humane to horrifying. It's a classic family saga in the mode of The Corrections or The Sound and the Fury . . . Murray delights in taking a stock type - the sullen pubescent, the frazzled mother - and exploding it with ambiguity and empathy . . . An immensely enjoyable piece of expert craftsmanship

The Times (James Riding)

Fluid, funny and clever, exceptionally smartly structured . . . There's laughter in every other line, but there's also a compassion and a midlife wisdom at work

Literary Review (Paul Genders)

Immersive, brilliantly structured, beautifully written, so dense yet so compelling, [and] as laugh-out-loud funny as it is deeply disturbing . . . The Bee Sting is as ambitious as anything that has gone before, but with a focus and shape that grants it great depth as well as breadth. Seriously, all you need is this, your suntan lotion and a few days off work and you're good to go . . . I didn't see the plot twists coming. And they keep on coming, And coming again . . . I began with an ovation. I'll end abruptly, and in awe... Paul Murray, the undisputed reigning champion of epic Irish tragicomedy, has done it again

The Spectator (Ian Samson)

A family lurches into financial and emotional crisis in full view of judgmental neighbours in this astute, remorselessly funny novel about how people are invariably more complex than they first appear . . . Murray tackles some of the biggest issues facing our society in a thoughtful, tragicomic novel exploring smalltown society and social class

Daily Mirror (Huston Gilmore)

This bumper novel is already gaining plaudits as the book of the summer, and if it's a meaty, heart punching, expertly executed family saga you need this August, then you can stop the search now . . . Murray delivers scarcely a duff sentence in a 600-page novel that's pure unadulterated pleasure. It's been compared to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections; I'd argue it's better than that

Daily Mail (Claire Allfree)

A triumph. The Bee Sting deserves all the praise I am heaping on it. It is generous, immersive, sharp-witted and devastating; the sort of novel that becomes a friend for life

Financial Times (John Self)

Funny, dark, moving and deeply humane. It's also driven by an inexorable tragic force, and Murray's intricate narrative dexterity makes it very easy to keep turning all those hundreds of pages

Observer (Summer Reads - Mark O’Connell)

This epic, many-layered tragicomedy of an Irish family in crisis is as pleasurable to read as it is emotionally devastating

Guardian ('Summer Stories')

Utterly absorbing . . . Every perfectly tooled sentence slips down as cleanly as an ice-cold Negroni

Daily Mail ‘2023 Summer Reads’

I'm looking forward to Paul Murray's new family saga, The Bee Sting; he's such a sharp and funny writer

David Nicholls

The Bee Sting has resulted in Murray being heralded "Dublin's Jonathan Franzen" . . . No one does bittersweet comic novels quite like Murray - fans of his 2010 boarding school comedy Skippy Dies will be aching to get their hands on this

iNews (Leila Slimani)

Murray gives us a capacious story of one Irish family that is entertaining, heartbreaking and surprising - few of the characters turn out to be exactly who you thought they'd be

iNews (Gwendolyn Smith)

A coruscating return for a novelist who's been keeping us waiting for something special since 2010's Skippy Dies . . . a tragicomedy that never stints on great jokes - even at its saddest

The Daily Telegraph

Every sentence in Paul Murray's brilliant family drama The Bee Sting crackles with wit and ingenuity

iNews (Michael Delgado)

One of the finest — and funniest — novels of 2023, this Booker-shortlisted tale of a troubled Irish family takes their financial, sexual and existential struggles and turns them into riotous comedy

The Times, 'Best Novels of 2023'

[The Bee Sting] reads like an instant classic . . . Murray is a fantastically witty and empathetic writer, and he dazzles by somehow bringing the great sprawling randomness of life to glamorously choreographed climaxes. He is essentially interested in the moral conflicts of our lives, and he handles his characters and their failings with heartbreaking tenderness

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

[A] wonderful saga . . . [The Bee Sting] brilliantly explores how our self-deceptions ultimately catch up with us, and is at once hilarious and heartbreaking

Booker Prize Judges

A first-class piece of immersive fictionsharp-witted and clear-eyed but big-hearted – that doesn’t feel as if it’s in retreat from reality

Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

Murray’s writing is pure joypropulsive, insightful and seeded with hilarious observations . . . Through the Barneses’ countless personal dramas, Murray explores humanity’s endless contradictions: How brutal and beautiful life is. How broken and also full of potential. How endlessly fraught and persistently promising. Whether or not we can ever truly change our course, the hapless Barneses will keep you hoping, even after you turn the novel’s last page

Jen Doll, New York Times

[The Bee Sting] has been a revelation: I loved every second of reading this. I found myself reaching for it on tubes and buses, stealing five minutes to read it as I waited for a coffee, staying up late to read in bed, despite my near-religious sleeping schedule. It has been a pleasure to read, and to say that it’s changed my outlook on reading, my choices, and tastes, would be an understatement. The Bee Sting has allowed me to re-evaluate my prior notions, and to get out of my own way for discovering new fiction

Aimée Walsh, RTÉ

The Bee Sting is far and away the most entertaining of the novels on this year’s Booker shortlist, a fat slab of joyous readability – but which doesn’t stint on emotional depth

John Self, Independent

The overall tapestry Murray weaves is not one of desolation but of hope. This is a book that showcases one family’s incredible love and resilience even as their world crumbles around them

New York Times, ‘Best Books of 2023’

The most enjoyable new novel I came across this year. A sprawling, Franzen-esque saga about the Barnes family in Ireland recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, it’s an amazing piece of realist fiction, full-bodied, multi-narrative; a huge swing by Murray

Bret Easton Ellis, Observer

Funny and painful with ghosts from the past and spectres from the future

Clive Myrie, Observer

Paul Murray was robbed when it came to the Booker this year: his saga about a family scrambling for survival in recession blasted Ireland in 2008 is one of the novels of the year. Told from the perspective of four members of the Barnes family, and unspooling back in time to reveal a host of buried sentences, this effortlessly enjoyable novel overflows with human detail

Daily Mail. 'Best Christmas Gift Books'

This propulsive, humane, thrillingly unpredictable story of a family in free-fall was robbed at this year’s Booker . . . bold, original . . . Murray gives a totally fresh perspective on subjects from abuse to money, sexuality, love, climate disaster and violence, while conjuring characters who leap off the page

i Paper, 'Best Christmas Gift Books'

A tour de force of fiction . . . Murray expertly gives us each family member’s perspective of the same events – with flashbacks unravelling an intricate story of betrayal, crime and lust. Profound on the human condition, utterly gripping and peppered with comedy, your giftee will love it just as much as our reviewer did

Independent, 'Best Christmas Gift Books'

Funny, lyrical and heartbreaking, Paul Murray's Booker nominated family saga is perfect Betwixmas reading

The Standard, 'Best Christmas Gift Books'

Paul Murray is a confident, stylish writer: he convincingly evokes a teenage girl’s rage, a boy’s fear, a father’s secrets and a mother’s disappointments and grief

The Economist, 'Best Books of 2023'

The book I’ve recommended most this year – and had the most enthusiastic feedback about, a whopping 656 pages later – is without doubt Paul Murray’s Booker-shortlisted tragicomedy, The Bee Sting . . . combines freewheeling hilarity with savage irony, surprise reveals and generations-deep sadness; it offers the immersive pleasures that perhaps only a fat family saga can bring

Justine Jordan, Guardian, 'Best Books of 2023'

One of the best novels of the year . . . a compelling, thought-provoking tragic-comic family drama, told in multiple voices, and set in Ireland. The characters, of all ages, are memorable and convincing, the plot is a cracker and it will keep you gripped, amused and provoked throughout 656 brilliant pages

Independent, ‘Best Books of 2023’

I’m going to climb on the log-rolling bandwagon by recommending Paul Murrays achingly tragicomic The Bee Sting. Few, if any, Irish writers have ever succeeded in sketching contemporary midlands Ireland in such queasy yet humane detail. Himself a Dub, Murray brings a rare outsiders eye to an unfashionable and overlooked milieu

Ed O’Loughlin, Irish Times, ‘Best Books of 2023’

Triumphant . . . the best sort of holiday reading: engrossingly long, incredibly funny, impossibly sad

John Self, Irish Times, ‘Best Books of 2023’

I’m a sucker for a tragicomic family saga [and] Paul Murray has produced a masterpiece of the form. The Bee Sting is a mosaic-like account of one family’s misery when their car business hits the skids in post-crash Ireland . . . It’s an engrossing (and hilarious) story of blackmail and betrayal, thwarted romance and freak accidents

The Sunday Times, 'Best Books of 2023'

At over 600 pages, The Bee Sting may not appear the friendliest looking of reads . . . but don’t let the length put you off – this book earns every page . . . A tragicomedy, this novel is expansive in reach and has a climax that will stay with you long after the final page

City A.M., 'Best Books of 2023'

This is probably the most conventionally satisfying novel of 2023 . . . It is so engrossing that you will always want to be reading it and after you have finished it the characters stay with you. Murray is ostensibly a comic novelist, but he’s dealing in laughter in the dark by the end of this novel, which tackles economic uncertainty, climate crisis and the secrets that can define a family without some of its members realising

i Paper, 'Best Books of 2023'

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