19 March, 2015

Book Review: The Virgin Suicides

From Goodreads: The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides' classic debut novel.
The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.

Thoughts: "On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."

As opening sentences go, I think this is one of the best I've ever read. But in the end, the book is not so much about the girls as it is about the effect of the girls on those around them. Told from the point of view of one of the neighbourhood boys who desperately wanted to know the girls better, 20 years after the events, the reader, like the narrator is never fully in the picture of what is going on. Instead we are standing on the outside, looking in, trying to make connections, trying to be a part of their lives and feeling helpless as it all falls apart around us. The Virgin Suicides is a metaphor lovers wet dream - the demise of the girls, the demise of their house, the demise of the neighbourhood, the demise of middle class America. It's all there. Commentary on teen suicide and it's rise is an obvious, but important theme, although there is a slightly disparaging tone as you feel the focus on suicide by the media and schools is simply an effort to appear to be concerned without offering any real solutions - an attempt to look like you're doing something while actually having no idea what you should do.
Once again Eugenides writing has me believing I was reading the recollection of someone who many years on was still trying to make sense of it all. You  could imagine sitting with the narrator at a bar as he told you this sad and desperate tale, realising the lasting effect it had on him and the others who grew up within the orbit of the girls. I find his writing captivating. Not a word is wasted or misplaced. Another writer I will definitely read more of.

The Virgin Suicides gets 4 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing