Something to Do

I like slow-reading the first few lines of books that I find on popular lists. The less I know about the book when I start reading the better. No author bio, no summaries, no reviews. My notes and questions represent a first, raw reading and may therefore be misguided and misleading. Because I am a pedant I often get stuck on details a few sentences in. For example, here:

The Bee Sting, for me, is another insta-buy from the 2023 Booker longlist. Here’s four notes on its first three paragraphs, which hooked me with their exposition of a world I’d be equally thrilled and anxious to enter:

In the next town over, a man had killed his family. He’d nailed the doors shut so they couldn’t get out;1 the neighbours heard them running through the rooms, screaming for mercy. When he had finished he turned the gun on himself.2
Everyone was talking about it – about what kind of man could do such a thing, about the secrets he must have had. Rumours swirled about affairs, addiction, hidden files on his computer.3
Elaine just said she was surprised it didn’t happen more often. She thrust her thumbs through the belt loops of her jeans and looked down the dreary main street of their town. I mean, she said, it’s something to do.4
(The first few lines from The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, with my footnotes)

1 Ooh, a semicolon, and at the right place!

2 A drastic beginning with no names, no dates, no motive, but with a perfect amount of detail that sets up a rather relentless world: the nailed doors show the killer as a pragmatic monster, and the cries for mercy, which have been heard but not answered, at least not soon enough, by the neighbours, make us imagine the last, terrible moments they must have experienced.

3 Another paragraph without specifications, told in a matter-of-fact voice that summarizes the obvious repercussions of the event – except that in other stories, life may come to a halt for those who knew the family, everyone may come together in grief and horror, things may change – but here, apparently, gossip is most important to people, at least to those we hear about. Like every viewer of a true crime documentary, they find a murderer more interesting than a victim.

4 What an efficient introduction of character and place: Elaine knows enough about the world to expect even worse things, or pretends to know enough. She comes across as a hard-boiled cynic, but in the context this may well be a defense mechanism against the real horrors of life.
And the final sentence, with its gloriously tasteless joke, also sets the tone: Elaine’s comment that murdering people is at least better than being bored implies that this is a book in which one could expect to laugh out loud a lot, about things that are pretty terrible, which is something I like to do.

First few lines read from:Paul Murray, The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton)
Found on this list:Booker Prize 2023 (Longlist)



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.