Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Lovely Bones (book)

I’d been meaning to read The Lovely Bones for a long time now – even before the Peter Jackson film was announced. And with the film adaptation's release imminent, I finally got around to it.

For those who don’t know, The Lovely Bones is a novel by Alice Sebold published in 2002 that tells the story of a girl called “Salmon. Like the fish. First name Susie.” On 6 December 1973 fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is raped and murdered by a neighbour. Susie tells us her story in first person narration while watching over her family and friends from her own personalised heaven, ‘the in-between’, watching as they struggle to come to terms with her most awful of deaths. While watching her family in pain, Susie is struggling to let go of her mortal bonds and the terrible sense of loss she feels for the life she will never now have – especially the budding first love with a boy at school that started and ended with just one fleeting kiss.

I liked The Lovely Bones a great deal but it sure was hard going. It’s one of the most emotionally affecting things I've ever read. There were several places in Alice Sebold’s text where I was unable to keep the old eyes from leaking. Several places where I just had to stop and say to myself ‘Okay. That’s enough for now.’ Why? I guess the subject matter and the original way in which it's presented. The way the book presents the characters and how they relate to each other in the wake of tragedy. I’d defy the hardest of hearts not to be moved by young Susie Salmon, and then for that heart not to break as her tale goes on, before becoming healed at story’s end. For a parent reading this book I’d imagine it would be a gruelling experience. I’m not a parent and it was pretty tough for me at times. But despite the horror of Susie’s murder there is also an inherent warmth and hopefulness around the whole tale. It is sad and tragic, yes, but also rather life affirming in a strange way.

The Lovely Bones does a great job showing the different dynamics of a family shattered by the worst possible tragedy, of showing how that family tries and fails and tries again to put itself back together. As a novel it didn’t quite go where I thought it would. It’s not a murder mystery or solve the crime and catch the killer type of story. There are elements of that in there but that’s not what the story is about. This is primarily a story about discovery, of growing up and of moving on. It’s a unique coming of age tale about someone who will never come of age - at least not as she should. It’s a love story about life and family told from the perspective of someone who can now see every tiny aspect of life and family but cannot participate in it anymore.

The Lovely Bones is not the best written book ever. The prose can be a little dry at times. However it is always intriguing and tells a sad but also hopeful tale in a tough and often emotionally challenging way.

I hope that Peter Jackson’s movie captures the spirit and feel of the book, the horrific tragedy that can move you to tears but also the warmth and humanity that can make you smile.

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