Set in rural Ireland in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, when the Celtic Tiger has lost its roar, The Bee Sting tells the story of The Barnes family who, in one way or another, all find themselves deep in trouble: Dickie’s once-lucrative car business is going under while his exasperated wife Imelda is selling off her jewellery on eBay and half-heartedly dodging the attentions of cattle farmer Big Mike. 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.

Moving back and forth across four decades, to wrong turns that may or may not be the origin of the family’s current misery and misfortune, Murray also leads us in and around the same few post-crash months to give us the very different perspectives of Dickie, Imelda, Cass and PJ, on the same events. The Bee Sting captures the comic melodrama of life in a small community in episodes that are both recognisable and relatable but remains sympathetic to its characters, even as they make one bad decision after another.

Hilarious and tragic in equal measure, The Bee Sting is a gripping saga of one highly dysfunctional family that asks if a single moment of bad luck – a patch of ice on the road, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil, can change the direction of a life?

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‘This is a wonderfully ambitious and entrancing novel about a family imploding against a background of Ireland’s economic and social crisis of the late noughties. Suspenseful and linguistically astonishing, The Bee Sting is written with great wit and humanity, with a cast of complex characters who are held back by their past, mired in the present and longing for a different future. Paul Murray is a supremely gifted storyteller as we learn of unspoken secrets and desires in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations, in a rich, multi-layered novel that is both epic and intimate in scale. This is fiction of the finest calibre and we all unanimously agreed that The Bee Sting should win the Nero Gold Prize 2023 Book of the Year.’

Bernardine Evaristo, Chair of Judges 2023

Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Nero Book Awards


Paul Murray was born in Dublin in 1975 and is the author of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, Skippy Dies, The Mark and the Void and The Bee Sting. An Evening of Long Goodbyes was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and nominated for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies was shortlisted for the Costa Novel award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and longlisted for the Booker Prize. The Mark and the Void won the Everyman Wodehouse Prize 2016. The Bee Sting was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. Paul Murray lives in Dublin.

Photography © Aashfaria A. Anwar

‘The writing is both accomplished and highly readable, the characters shine, and the family members’ individual story arcs are all equally compelling and gripping.’

2023 Fiction judges

David Coates

Ella Dove

Anthony Quinn

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