Paul Murray im Interview

How often do international bestselling authors come to Bremen? Of course not often enough! We are all the more pleased that the Irish author Paul Murray is going to read in Bremen for the third time - this time with his fifth novel The Bee Sting, which was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Das Bild zeigt einen Mann mit kurzen braunen Haaren.
© Chris Maddaloni

In our literary magazine, we deal with the issue of skin this month, and I do also associate skin with sourfaces and keeping up appearances. Your novel The Bee Sting deals with a family that is experiencing a crisis. How does it come to this and how do they try to conceal the crisis?

The Bee Sting is about a family who have a car business in a small town in Ireland. The Great Recession, which in Ireland went on till 2014, has destroyed this once very profitable business, and the family, which until recently had a lot of power and status in the town, now finds itself running out of money. Imelda, the mother, is selling her jewellery on ebay, her son PJ is selling his Pokemon cards and his skateboard and whatever else. 

This is a family with a lot of secrets that they’ve used their wealth to cover up. Imelda in particular is obsessed with “keeping up appearances” – this is pretty common in Ireland, which is a country with a traumatic history that’s never been properly addressed. Now the money’s gone, the secrets start to come to the surface. The kids, who don’t know anything about these secrets, are the ones who suffer the most. 

What roles does skin explicitly play in the story?

Skin actually plays quite an explicit role – the book is called The Bee Sting because Imelda, the mom, is stung by a bee that flies in through the window as she’s on her way to her wedding. It gets trapped in her veil and stings her on the eye, which swells up , so she has to keep covered by the veil for the entire ceremony – which alarms her groom, obviously. Covering up, hiding what are felt to be flaws or failings or things that society will deem to be unacceptable is a theme throughout the book, and skin conditions are one of the ways that’s portrayed. Imelda’s daughter Cass has eczema, which she is ashamed of. She wants to be beautiful like her mother, but she can’t wear makeup, which makes her feel fundamentally unfeminine or “wrong”.

In German, your novel has more than 700 pages. Do you always plan to write so much?

Did I sit down and tell myself, I’m going to write a 700 page book? No, of course not. I write for as long as the story takes. This one has a lot going on.

You have had lectures in Bremen twice bevore. What comes to your mind thinking of the city?

I did a reading in Bremen in I think 2004 and then again in 2016. On both occasions the moderator was a wonderful professor called Ian Watson. I think I’ll be speaking to him this time too. In 2016, after the reading, he took me to what I believe was the oldest pub in Bremen – it was one of the most beautiful pubs I’ve been to.

Paul Murray

was born in 1975 in Dublin. He is the author of the novels An Evening of Long Goodbyes, which was short-listed for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies (2010) was long-listed for the Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Mark and the Void (2015) was the joint winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was named one of Time’s Top 10 Fiction Books of the year. 

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