Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book 4 – The Lovely Bones

By Alice Sebold

I was of two somewhat opposing feelings before I started reading this book. A part of me was intrigued by the morbidness of reading the first person account of fourteen year old Susie Salmon, who gets raped and murdered by her neighbour. The other part of me regarded with disdain the fact that said girl was narrating her story as a floaty spirit in heaven.

It took me a while to get into the book. It vacillates from being a about a family trying to come to terms with their loss and grief, a suspense story where the father and sister of the murdered girl work together to uncover the identity of the killer and magic realist flights of fancy where the narrator tries to fulfill her girlish yet earthly fantasies.

The first two factors were what made the novel appealing for me. The world of 1970s suburbia was nicely portrayed and the characters of the family members well developed, especially the women, such as Susie’s mother and younger sister, Lindsey. The inclusion of a background story for serial killer George Harvey was interesting too. As well as having the detective, Len Fenerman, as a well-meaning yet sadly ineffective good guy.

There are also some powerful images in The Lovely Bones that stick in your head well after you're done with the book (whether you like it or not): Susie trapped with her murderer in the underground "clubhouse" hidden beneath an abandoned cornfield; Susie's dismembered body locked inside an old safe that's been submerged in a sinkhole, never to be discovered; Susie's sister Lindsey running off with killer George Harvey's sketchbook clutched in her hand, her soccer jersey disappearing into the bush (one of the few satisfying moments in the book).

Despite this, I generally side with the opinion of the NYT review, that although Sebold "maintains almost perfect balance" for this "high-wire act for a first-time novelist", it was the ridiculous wish-fulfillment ending that pretty much ruined the whole thing for me.

Basically, Susie’s old classmate, Ruth, has clairvoyant tendencies so Susie manages to possess Ruth’s body for a little while so she can make love to her high school could-have-been sweetheart, Ray Singh. Oh, and Ray, for some inexplicable reason, just knew that Ruth was actually Susie. Like, geez, come on! That scenario like really burst the narrative bubble for me.

To sum it up with a blurb from Observer reviewer, Philip Hensher: "very readable but ultimately it seems like a slick, overpoweringly saccharine and unfeeling exercise in sentiment and whimsy". I would disagree that the writing was unfeeling, but there were moments where it felt like Sebold was trying a little too hard.

The end.

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