by Gloria M: There are countless reasons “The Bee Sting” by Paul Murray is shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize. It was on this reviewer’s TBR list BEFORE that honor was announced! It is a tour de force, an epic work that demands to be in your home library!

So many interwoven threads to discover within these 642 pages-the economic crash in Ireland and its impact, family members struggling with their inability to connect with one another while troubles stack up in a teetering Jenga pile, and the struggle most humans face to be good especially as the world faces possible doom. The family consists of Dickie Barnes, failing business owner and his wife Imelda, adrift in a sea of memories of her deceased former fiance (Dickie’s brother) and their two children: clever college bound Cass seeking answers in a bottle and pre-adolescent P.J., a loner on the verge of running away into danger.

All four do not see each other clearly and tragically do not seem to know each other at all. Mired and embroiled in their own morass they cling to others who only escalate the dismal trajectories of their lives. Dickie spends the majority of his time building an end of times bunker with Victor, his gun obsessed inept handyman while Imelda considers an affair with Big Mike the town philanderer and father to Elaine, Cass’s narcissistic mean girl best friend. P.J. cannot get any family members to aid him in his crisis, so he is continually texting with Ethan, an online gaming “buddy” who may not be who he says he is.

Throw in lots of life problems such as a dreary small town a few hours from Dublin, a lack of money, confusion and denial over sexual feelings, faltering friendships and the ever present ability of human beings to just not face the truth about themselves and others and you have a forceful and robust novel that draws you in from the first line, “In the next town over, a man had killed his family.” This turns out to be no one the Barnes or their circle actually know but. still sets a tone about secrets and the hidden nature of families. The flashbacks adroitly penned by Murray reveal the events that formulated this family, from Dickie and Imelda’s dysfunctional childhoods and the mistakes all four of them make as they make their way in the world.

Everyone will find this book and these characters lingering in their thoughts for quite a long time. A most worthy read with a writer at the top of his game!