This is the tale of family, memory, love, and living told by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who is already in heaven. Through the voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and builds out of her family's grief a hopeful and joyful story.
What makes the pointlessness of the novel so aggravating is the selection of subject matter: the rape and murder of a child (and the aftermath). I'm not suggesting that such subject matter should be off-limits for fiction, but I am suggesting that if an artist wants to go there, it'd better be worth the trip. In short, she'd better have something damned important to say that justifies (and indeed requires) the fictional portrayal of such horrors. To treat this subject matter simply for the sake of thrills is wholly unconscionable.
When I'm feeling generous, I'm inclined to allow that Sebold wanted to say something important, something deep, about family, love, or connections between people, and that she chose her subject matter as appropriate for the expression of those ideas. But even granting this, I'm calling her out for lacking the necessary skill to carry out the artistic task--and for not recognizing her lack of skill and maturity as an artist. Perhaps she should have attempted this book later in her career. At this point, the hollowness of the book lends a sick sort of leering quality to her treatment of a child rape/murder.
Even putting aside this major flaw, there are other problems with the writing that keep the novel from succeeding.
For a book that has so much to do with blood and love, it ends up feeling strangely bloodless. Too much craft and not enough caring or passion. One wonders why the author felt compelled to tell this story.
While the workmanlike prose is effective in evoking simple emotions, in the end the novel feels strangely devoid of feeling. With the exception of brief and infrequent flights into the ecstatic or lyrically poetic (often lasting no more than a sentence or two), nothing in the language of the novel is remarkable, and nothing in its style sets it apart. In some ways it feels like an exercise in the craft of writing, lacking conviction.
To be fair, this could be the result of the author's attempt to stay true to the central conceit of the novel: the story is told through the eyes of a murdered child observing her family on earth from what she calls "heaven," a perspective that (in this telling) includes a certain emotional distancing from the world of the living that increases over time. This device does allow for an unusual and intriguing mixture of first-person and third-person omniscient narratives, which is one of the book's more interesting features. Unfortunately, it also limits the author's diction to that of an average 14-year-old American girl. More problematically, as mentioned above, the vision of life after death here gives us a narrator who is increasingly emotionally detached from the events she relates. If the murdered girl doesn't care all that much about what happens, why should the reader?
Perhaps the author wanted to create an emotional distance in the narrator (and reader) to convey the distance, the letting-go, the sense of remove that is here associated with death. After all, we might say that death cures all passions. Yet this distancing effect seems to contradict of the novel's other central themes: that some passions can and do transcend death, or at least survive it. The problem is that, in this book, passion is reduced to something more akin to general interest or even mild curiosity--a far, far cry from the kind of intensity of feeling the reader is asked to believe might suffice to move heaven and earth, or the border between them.
Despite the promise of the story's somewhat different point of view, the writing fails to rise to the level demanded by its intense and tragic subject. If you're going to write about the damage done to a family when a child is murdered, or the ties that bind the dead to the living, you had better reach deeper into your soul than this book does--or at least offer up some insight or understanding that goes beyond a conventional tugging at heartstrings.
The first chapter into the book, I knew this wasn’t like any other story I have read. My stomach churned as the author describes how and where Susie is abducted and eventually murdered. She holds nothing back in the description and imagery so that you as the reader are left reeling in horror at the inhumanity and sheer evil that emanates from one single person. If the central focus of the story is to put a face on what evil looks like, I would have been left feeling hollow and scarred. But Alice Sebold goes on to weave a story from Susie’s perspective about love and how that love keeps us anchored to earth. She paints a story about how a family is left to deal with the pieces and memories of a daughter who was torn away, and in the end understanding that however final death may feel, a part of her will always be found their everyday moments.
I spent the first half of the book wandering and hoping that this guy, this monster would be found, caught and locked up until the end of his days, but by the end of the book, it was no longer about him, but about Susie and her relationship and love for the family she left behind. The journey of brokenness and healing in the end was front stage rather than the fate of the perpetrator. I will probably never read The Lovely Bones again, not for the lack of it being a good book, but rather the first time around is enough to haunt me forever.
The plot had WAY too many implausible holes in the story. I could have driven a chartered bus through some of those plot holes. I won't go into details, only because I don't like to post spoilers in reviews. The author also clearly didn't do her research on some points relevant to the plot. I don't necessarily expect my authors to become experts and be perfect, but when there are certain details on which the plot hinges, it would be nice if the author had a clue.
The author's writing style really didn't do much for me, either. I constantly felt as if I was swimming in mud reading this. If Sebold was aiming for a slow, lyrical writing style, she overshot by far. This was muddled, messy, and mucky.
Writing was bad, felt like it went on forever...
just watch the movie, it's beter
And it's hard to say more about the story than that. It suffers, I think from being beautifully written, often with gorgeous turns of prose, but without the pacing to support it: it gets slower and slower, and plot threads have a tendency to being dropped and not picked up again. The denoument when it comes is hard to make sense of, and it's not entirely clear what the reader is meant to take from it. But it does have very likeable characters, a charismatic narrator and a great sense of time and place, so it's very difficult to discount the novel altogether, and indeed, it's very readable: I read the first half of it on a park bench in the Florida Everglades, and was only persuaded to stop when the owner demanded it back. This time around, again, I read it at very few sittings. It's a good book, it's worth reading. But it could be better.
I felt that the story had great potential for creativity - it seemed a unique idea, and I really wanted to like it, but I was disappointed. There are some enjoyable moments of poetic language and imagery, but most are overdone and unnatural. It was impossible to feel anything for the characters - even Susie herself - as they were as completely underdeveloped. Sebold could have explored the emotions of the Salmon family as they attempted to deal with the senseless tragedy, but instead treated all of her characters with a cold detachment that makes them all seem like shadows rather than real people.
The characters were incredibly flat, the scenes disjointed, the storyline contrived, the ending trite - I was left feeling cheated out of the time I spent reading this book. The real proof is here in my review - I can't even think of much to say about The Lovely Bones, and I just finished reading it not 30 minutes ago!
That being said, the reason I don’t know what to say about this book is that it didn’t leave much of a “lingering impression” in my mind now that I’m done reading it. It was engaging, thought-provoking, and sometimes even powerful while I was reading it but now that I’m done with it, I’m just ready to pick up another book. Maybe that says more about my current state of mind than about the book itself; maybe I just need to process it more. But I guess it just seems to me that all of its excellent small points didn’t add up to anything in the end.
Or perhaps I’m just not satisfied with the book’s “conclusion.” The title comes from the following quote (Susie Salmon, the murdered girl, is the first-person narrator):
“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections - sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent - that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”
So basically, she comes to realize that her death deeply affected her family members and friends (obviously), and that their lives ended up being a deep, rich tapestry of human existence that perhaps they wouldn’t have been had she not been murdered. Goodness—and even magnificence—came out of Susie’s death.
When I type this out, I wonder why this conclusion doesn’t satisfy me. It’s certainly something I agree with: Horrible tragedies can result in depth and magnificence and beauty. Is it just that the conclusion seems so obvious? Even trite?
I’m going to conclude lamely—much like The Lovely Bones—and just say that I have mixed feelings about the book. It’s definitely worth reading though, and you probably won’t be able to put it down because it’s such a page-turner!
Back on earth, Susie's family and friends cope with her death. Here is where the novel has its most realistic feel: her father unraveling and obsessed, her mother finding comfort in the arms of the investigating sheriff, her sister coming to terms with outliving her sibling, and her younger brother trying to make sense of the change in his family. Friends and acquaintances left behind are affected by her death, too, with some becoming obsessed by her death. In turn, Susie is obsessed with them, and even goes as far as to possess one of their bodies. (Imagine after such a fantastical beginning, thinking "OK, now it's getting weird.") The odd interaction between the living and the dead sometimes felt a bit much, but the author makes up for it with the compelling charactarizations of those left behind. And she manages to make a satisfying ending out of unsatisfying events, like the fate of Susie's murderer and her body. It's a fascinating story about how lives can move on after a horrifying event, yet still be influenced by it years later. Even Susie must come to terms with her awful death, and through her journey, we come to terms with it, too.
Despite its odd moments, the novel is a real page-turner, well-written, and imaginative.
As Susie looks down on her grieving family she wants them to discover that their neighbor is the one who murdered her. The story is sweet and heartfelt, but at the same time it's creepy and unnerving. In a couple of parts Sebold gets way out there when Susie's desire to be alive again is so powerful that she actually transports herself back into another body. The story is unreal and bizarre in some parts, but it's not completely unbelieveable. Isn't there a small part of us that would like to look down on our family after we've gone and see how they're coping? If we were murdered, wouldn't we want to expose the guy?
The anguish the family experiences, even years after the fact, is not minimized by Sebold. In fact, she doesn't downplay any of the challenges dealing with a murder of a child would play in the home, among friends, in the school, or in the community. Yet, still, somehow I found comfort in reading this book.