Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

HARDCOVER; 328 P.
LITTLE, BROWN & CO, 2002
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder — a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family’s need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

Sebold creates a heaven that’s calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive — and then some. But Susie isn’t ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part. To her great credit, Sebold has shaped one of the most loving and sympathetic fathers in contemporary literature.

The Lovely Bones was one of those early 21st century bestsellers that I remember hearing about but because at the time I was going on 12 and still into children’s fiction, it never occurred to me that I could read it. However, I’ve lately seen the book mentioned on several occasions and though it sounded interesting. Also the fact that the book has been adapted into a film directed by Peter Jackson piqued my interest.

Set in a Pennsylvanian suburb in the 1970s, The Lovely Bones is the story of the death of Susie Salmon and a family trying to overcome and understand their sudden loss. The narrator, 14-year-old Susie, is raped and brutally murdered on her way back from school. Alerted to the fact that their daughter is missing, Susie’s parents contact the police but as the search continues, they are eventually told that their daughter is most likely dead. Susie follows the unraveling of her case from Heaven, watching over her family and gauging their reactions of desperation, fear and depression. Every member of the Salmon family reacts differently to the tragedy and while her sister tries to push back her feelings, her father tries desperately to find the murderer. And what of her 4-year-old brother who does not understand the concept of ‘death’?

The Lovely Bones begins with the day that Susie was raped and murdered and all the events are narrated from her perspective. It is horrible and haunting, one of those scenes that made my blood boil and want to throw the book away. As the story progresses, the lens turns from Susie to her family, to her friends and the next-door murderer who hides behind his facade. Despite the anger inducing beginning, the tone of the narration and the book is quite calm and soothing. The monotony of the quiet suburb reveals upon closer inspection a mixture of characters that are all in some ways affected by the disappearance of Susie. The Lovely Bones deals a lot with the fear of the suburbs – the fear of not really knowing your neighbours and the fear of vanishing. The book has a lot of potential to be amazing, but towards the end, some of the many plot lines get jumbled or are resolved very offhandedly. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, the books continues to divide opinions – some people love it and some hate it with passion. I’d recommend The Lovely Bones to everyone who’s interested in reading about family dynamics, life in the suburbs and dealing with loss.

4/5

As he set it down I snapped the last solitary photo of my mother. Already her eyes had begun to seem distracted and anxious, diving under and up into a mask somehow. In the next photo, the mask was almost, but not quite, in place and in the final photo, where my father was leaning slightly down to give her a kiss on the cheek- there it was.
‘Did I do that to you?’ he asked her image as he stared at the pictures of my mother, lined up in a row. ‘How did that happen?’

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6 thoughts on “Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

  1. I totally agree – the end did let it down a bit, but this powerful book stayed with me. I’ve not seen the film – no-one I know who saw it thought it was very good, but it may just be because they loved the book so much!

    • The imagery of the book is quite powerful and it will most likely stay with me for a long time. As for the film, I’ve also heard from people that it wasn’t a very good one, so I think I might give it a pass.

  2. I thought the start was disturbing but it stayed with you, the rest of the book I did not care for, I only finished it because I wanted to know what happened. I also did not like the writing style. Nice review:)

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I find it interesting how differently some readers react to this book. I guess it evokes a lot of feelings due to the subject matter and the writing style, both for and against. I read a few reviews – negative and positive ones – before posting mine, and found myself agreeing with both sides. The Lovely Bones isn’t the best book out there and it has a few problems, but I appreciated the fact that it made me feel and respond to the writing.

      • Ye I know what you mean, I have not read anything else by this author and not sure I will. It’s hard to judge books with of this nature. Have you watched this film? I keep getting to the same spot and just cannot watch any farther.

  3. I read this years ago but remember being really annoyed by the ending… she has the opportunity to tell the world who killed her and say goodbye to her family but decided to go have sex instead 😐 weird, weird ending. I liked the rest of it though =) great review!

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