The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Paper Book, 1993

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Warner Books, [1994], c1993.

Description

The narrator and his friends piece together the events that led up to the suicides of the Lisbon girls--brainy Therese, fastidious Mary, ascetic Bonnie, libertine Lux, and saintly Cecilia.

Media reviews

Mr. Eugenides is blessed with the storyteller's most magical gift, the ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
1 more
Adopting a tone simultaneously elegiac and loony, The Virgin Suicides takes the dark stuff of Greek tragedy and reworks it into an eccentric, mesmerizing, frequently hilarious American fantasy about the tyranny of unrequited love, and the unknowable heart of every family on earth — but especially the family next door.

User reviews

LibraryThing member indygo88
Mixed feelings about this one. I loved the beginning of the book -- the first sentence completely draws the reader in. From there, you basically know how the novel ends, and spend the rest of the reading following the timeline of the Lisbon girls & trace the path that brought them to the end. However, if you are a reader wanting answers & waiting for some closure, you'll likely be disappointed. I found myself falling into this category. While the prose of the book is very compelling, I was waiting for a climax that ultimately fell short. And while I believe Eugenides meant for this to be more of a pondering, thought-provoking novel which truly does reflect all of the unanswered questions in a suicide, I was still left wanting more.… (more)
LibraryThing member stephmo
Our collective narrator lets us in on the brief year in which the suicides of the five Lisbon girls first began to dominate the gossip of their neighborhood. Jeffrey Eugenides lets us into this world where they're now at least twenty years older, looking through their collected exhibits and interviews as they've remain obsessed ever since.

This is the talent of Eugenides. We're given the story, not from inside the Lisbon house, but from outside. And from this need to understand outside, we're given a view that's very compelling. We find girls catapulted into mythological creatures from this perspective; we find a home transformed into a full character from this perspective. Even more importantly, this perspective allows a look into an incomprehensible tragedy with a permissible distance. Any closer and we would have been overwhelmed by what the Lisbon girls had experienced; any further and we would have been the news media reading cold statistics on teen suicide over videotaped footage of the Lisbon house for color.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The Virgin Suicides is an anti-coming of age story of five teenaged sisters who all die by suicide. Their story is told by an unnamed, or collective, boy who lived in their neighborhood, who now presents it as a court case and a mystery of what exactly drove all of these girls to kill themselves.

The girls never really get to speak for themselves. Their parents' conservatism keeps them held within the confinement of a stringent household and away from much of society. The neighborhood boys worship the Lisbon girls as a collective; some of them can't even keep their names straight, just know that to have any one of the girls has to be wonderful. The Lisbon girls are held up as an example of tragic teen suicide, or the cause of the demise of the neighborhood, but never just girls.

Jeffrey Eugenides writes a compelling story brimming with the awkwardness and uncertainty of adolescence that rings very true. At times, therefore, this can be a challenging book, but it's a good one
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
I'm not going to give you my traditional plot summary in this review - I believe the title pretty much says it all. The story centers around five teenage girls - sisters: Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia Lisbon. Set in 1970's era Michigan, The Virgin Suicides is narrated through the eyes of the boys orbiting around the Lisbon girls' lives. And that as they say, is that. To give more details would take away from the magic contained within.

Let me first say that despite the disturbing subject matter, I found The Virgin Suicides to be well-written and tragically beautiful. Jeffrey Eugenides' writing gives this obviously dark story the gentle and enchanting feel of a fairy tale. The Virgin Suicides is simply haunting, perhaps due to the obsessive point of view and speculations of the neighborhood boys.

Jeffrey Eugenides is a superb example of everything a writer should be - brilliant with his prose, compelling with his setting, and engaged in his plot. The finished product is a remarkably readable, atmospheric tale, bending at times towards the Gothic. A touching and realistic story, artistically written, The Virgin Suicides is an interesting and unsettling story that should not be missed.
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LibraryThing member delphimo
This novel came highly recommended by the critics, but frankly I disliked the novel. The story involves five Detroit sisters around the 1950's. The five Lisbon girls all commit suicide in a year. The chapters are long rambling affairs that lead nowhere. No one in the community steps in to prevent tragedy after the first suicide. The father, a math teacher in a private high school, resigns from his teaching position and the girls are withdrawn from school. The narrators of the story are the boys who watch the five Lisbon sisters and attempt to explain the problem after the event. I was relieved when the book finally ended.… (more)
LibraryThing member redpandabear
Through the observations and discoveries of a group of teenage boys, the tragedy of the Lisbon family is revealed. Brought up in an authoritarian household, the five daughters all commit suicide. This is the story of the events which led up to their deaths and effect they left on the town they lived in.

At times the story dragged, but the wording was beautiful, and the story in itself is haunting. It doesn't ultimately solve the mystery of why they killed themselves, but does a good job of explaining in detail all the factors which led up to their deaths. After reading (and absolutely loving) Middlesex, I was excited to read this. Eugenides is an extremely talented writer in that he makes the details more interesting than they really are. The tone of the book is pretty dark, which is interesting for a story about youth, but ultimately I guess it's because it's more about the passing of youth and everything that's lost.… (more)
LibraryThing member Foxen
Forwarning: this will be a wishy-washy review. I had trouble liking this book. I could tell what it was going for- it wanted a sort of haunting, To Kill a Mockingbird-esque, classic neighborhood childhood feel. I suppose it had it, but it never pulled me in. By all rights this is a very interesting book. It's narrated in second person plural, "we" is (are?) the narrator- ostensibly one of the neighborhood boys, but really kind of a generic boyhood collective consciousness; he's never one of the boys who does anything or has a name. It's an interesting device. It puts the reader in a position of generic nostalgia, the way you would remember childhood events that you witnessed but were not a part of, that seemed just a little bit unreal looking back. But it still didn't quite get to me the way I wanted it too. It was haunting, but it was also a little bit boring. The narrator is looking back, trying to piece together why the five Lisbon girls committed suicide. That's the hook of the story, the thing that's supposed to keep you reading, and I suppose it does but, as I said, it never really pulled me in. The first three quarters of the book, looking at the girls from a distance in the time between suicides, mainly just struck me as a little bit dull. Maybe that was just me, though, and it did pick up at the end. Also, though, I think the problem I had with it was part of what the book was going for. The suicides are a mystery being investigated by someone who's entire character is defined by not understanding why this happened; it shouldn't be very surprising, then, that you never get to know the characters. The narrator is interested in the suicides because they were a part of his childhood, but that's not a good enough reason for the reader (or at least for me), and the book, though it tried, didn't ever really give me a good substitute. I could see what it was going for, but in the end it didn't pull me in. If you don't care why the girls did it it's very difficult to appreciate the narrator trying to piece it together.

On a slightly different note, though, the aspect of the book that did interest me was the treatment of gender (really shouldn't be a surprise from the author of Middlesex, I suppose). The girls being constantly referred to homogeneously as "the Lisbon girls" and the way the local boys (i.e. the narrator) sometimes got them confused and regarded them as a unit grated on me. As, I think, it was intended to. I think the end of the book strongly suggests that this attitude is actually a big part of the real answer to the mystery, which the narrator continues to fail to grasp. "The Lisbon girls" say more about the narrating childhood culture than about the girls themselves, I think.

So, the book was interesting enough that I finished it, and it kept me thinking about certain aspects of it for a while afterward, but I still didn't really like it. There were aspects that were very good, and a lot that it didn't really earn, to my mind. Or maybe I just missed the point by wanting a bit more narrative interest. If anything I've said sounded interesting to you then give it a try; plenty of people think the book is literary genius so it's worth the attempt, but know what to expect.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
The Lisbon family is made up of five teenage daughters, a mild-mannered father and an extremely conservative mother. When the youngest daughter, Cecilia, commits suicide at the beginning of the novel, the family is thrown into a painful year of grieving. Their quiet life in a
Detroit suburb becomes claustrophobic as they slowly retreat within themselves.

We watch their story unfold from the outside view of the neighborhood boys and because of this we never truly understand all that the girls go through. The reader is left wanting more; more information, more interaction with the Lisbons, just more. I think that Eugenides intended this, because he wrote the book from the point-of-view of outsiders who were themselves, left wanting more. That is a double-edged sword though, because while the novel is strangely fascinating, it also keeps the reader at a distance. We hear about events that have already happened and we receive little explanation for them. It’s hard to become too involved, but it’s also a tribute to Eugenide’s skill as a writer that he can give the reader so little and yet hold their attention.

It’s a beautifully written debut novel and I’m glad I read it, though I might have held him to a higher standard with this novel, because I knew what he was capable of. In the writing I recognize the style that I loved so well in his second book, Middlesex. This book’s somber tone failed to capture my love in the same way his later novel did.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; (5*)

This is, I think, a rather unique story. We never really understand the main characters but we do get to know the minor characters quite well. We do not see growth in the characters within the covers of this book but somehow it all feels right. It seems on the surface to be a simple story, however it is anything but. It is artistic without losing any of its entertainment value.
Eugenides gives us a story with many layers filled with strong undercurrents and quiet symbolism. The book is about the sad fate of the Libson girls but on the other hand the author uses the girls merely as a focal point for themes (often using strong symbolism and light subtext) about the place of religion, the nature of humans, and perhaps even the meaning of life within the book.
There is deep significance in the recurring themes of religious icons and in the fate of the neighborhood's elm trees. The Virgin Suicides is full of symbolism and metaphors but he manages to stay very readable. To have such heavy symbolism and not create a pretentious book is a very difficult balance but Eugenides pulls it off brilliantly. The writing is fluid and the prose beautiful. Eugenides turns the most mundane into the most haunting and beautiful prose and the book is filled with dark humor along with reality.
Though some may find it's ending somewhat unfulfilling but our libraries are full of books that can offer you character growth but few can offer such appealing prose and such powerful emotions and ideas as The Virgin Suicides offers.
Just read it!
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LibraryThing member nicolemaddock
Jeffrey Eugenides' first novel, The Virgin Suicides, is unlike any book I've read. It's uniqueness stems from the narration; the reader is outside the action and just like the boys in the story, must piece together events from the few clues revealed to them along the way. I shared in the narrators' frustration, never truly knowing the enigmas that were the Lisbon girls or the motives behind the suicides. Readers are only allowed brief glimpses of the inner sanctum of their lives and the reader is left yearning for more, to know the girls' version of the story. Although this technique is, at some times, frustrating, it also worked to draw me more thouroughly into his tale. I think that this narrative style is entirely appropriate for this novel and that Eugenides really begs the question: can we every really know the reasons why someone would take their own life?

I found this novel to be a very interesting read. Wonderful descriptions and, as I would expect from Eugenides, excellently written in a simple and poweful style.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
A dark, modern fairytale scattered with wonderful lines but hampered by the bizarre narration. Calliope's presence in Middlesex grounds the story as something which could be real, but the collective of creepy youths presenting a dossier on the titular sisters distanced me from their plight.
LibraryThing member Magadri
This was a good book. I read it shortly after watching the movie and was surprised to find that the story was told from the boys' point of view rather than the girls'. After getting into the novel though, I liked that it was written from a point of view not so close to the main story. This book can be depressing at times, but I did not have a hard time finishing it at all. It gets a little darker toward the end, but not dark/depressing enough to stop me from finishing it.… (more)
LibraryThing member morgantaylor
This is a hard one to rate and review. It's a very beautifully written book and the unique outside perspective is what carries the book. But I found myself liking the concept of this book much more than how the book actually played out. I would have been fine with not knowing all of the answers and not getting to know the girls personally if there had been more to the story. More piecing together of the mystery even if the mystery wasn't solved. As I continued reading and figured out that this book wasn't necessarily about the girls but really about male youth in the 1970's it really was hard not to be disappointed. I am not in need of more stories about male adolescence. Frankly not much happens in this book, one comment I read on goodreads is that it's "masturbatory reminiscence of what it felt like to be an American middle class white boy in suburbs in the 1950s (Mike Finn)" which I think is accurate and it left me wanting more. I mean really nothing happens. We don't learn much at all about the girls. We already knew they were going to commit suicide from the beginning. And these things could have worked well for me if we had gotten more in some other sense. I am glad I read it and I will be watching the film adaptation to see how they worked with the perspective which is so crucial to this book.
I don't know this seems harsh but at the same time I did like it in ways and it's just really a hard one. I'm not sure how exactly I feel.
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LibraryThing member KLmesoftly
Five sisters who kill themselves, as told by the neighbor boys who paid attention when no one else did.

I can't say I was satisfied by this--the novel is narrated by people who have no conclusive insights into the motives/inner lives of the titular "virgins," so the story is very open-ended and speculative--but I did enjoy reading it. Sections are very moving, and I found myself relating to the characters beyond the morbid curiosity that I'd begun reading with. I'd recommend it, as long as you're not looking for a cheerful, holiday-appropriate read.… (more)
LibraryThing member KathrynGrace
One of those books that comes along and changes your life.
LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
I really didn't enjoy this book at all. Having absolutely loved Middlesex, I found this book to be dull, boring and flat. I felt like I was just going through the motions reading it, and I felt nothing for the girls, or their family. I just didn't get to grips with the narration of the boys telling the story.
LibraryThing member br14jaeb
Jack Ebert
Class Six
October Sixth, 2013
Book Review

The Virgin Suicides is a story unlike any other. Eugenides’ tale exposes love, lust, and death through the honest and raw voice of the neighborhood’s adolescent boys who obsessively watch the Lisbon sisters. Beautiful, mysterious, and completely unobtainable to the boys. With an iron grip, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon parent the girls under a strict Catholic household. Cecilia, quiescent, introverted, and shy is the first to commit. Out of the window onto a sharp fence. Thus, launches a chaotic spiral into an inevitable demise of a once happy family. Throughout the story, you delve into the sisters most personal moments, thoughts, and encounters, including their final moments on Earth.
Initially, the outcome you expect from a tale such as this includes the words: somber, depressing, bleak, hopeless to name a few. But read on, these presumptions fly out the window along with little Cecilia. Instead you will find yourself transfixed, captivated, and infatuated. Eugenides gives the reader vivid pictures of passion, despair, and death.
Eugenides keeps the story from being too dark with witty, clever humor. Using sparse dialogue forces Eugenides makes each sentence count. This stunning novel will stay with you in a powerful way.
Five stars
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LibraryThing member mich_yms
The Virgin Suicides starts with a suicide case. We are told that Mary is the last of the Lisbon girls to take her own life. From the description of how the paramedics act on the scene, we know that they have been to the Lisbon house on many occasions prior to this, when the other Lisbon daughters committed their own acts of prematurely ending their lives.

Rewind the tape, and we are now taken back to when the first suicide happened. Cecilia, the youngest daughter, tries to kill herself by slitting both her wrists while in the bathtub. Her attempt is unsuccessful, and she is brought to the hospital where she is promptly brought back to life.

Why did she commit suicide? And why, even after being saved and brought for counselling, did she try again? (She succeeded this time.)

But the core of the story revolves around the lives of the remaining sisters and their parents. In a family so strict and bound by unbending rules set by their mother, how did the girls survive this family tragedy, their loss of their youngest sister?

The whole story is told in such a way that when I was reading it, I felt like I was watching a dramatic documentary. The narrators are themselves boys who witnessed this tragedy unfold, and were then obsessed about the remaining Lisbon girls. Now, when they are older and probably middle-aged, and after having 'researched' bits and pieces of the suicides, they tell us the story.
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LibraryThing member SouthernGirlReads
I was surprised that I had a hard time getting thru this book. I didn't really care for the writing style of the author too much. You never knew who was talking.
LibraryThing member rbtwinky
After readong Eugenides' other book Middlesex, this book was quite a let down. The narators of this story are, by their own declarations, fasacinated with the subjects, but I certainly wasn't. Eugenides gives the reader a perspective that suggests the significance is in the narrators, but we never get to know them well enough to relate to them. Odd book.… (more)
LibraryThing member dczapka
It's not even close to fair to compare Jeffrey Eugenides's first novel to Middlesex, regardless of the order in which one reads them, because this novel, while not the tour de force of his Pulitzer Prize-winning epic, succeeds of its own merit.

There is an impressive economy of language here, symbols and metaphors that leap off the page, fresh with originality, that slowly reveal layers of meaning far beyond the simple plot of the book. In fact, the climax of the book is essentially revealed on the first page, and it is a testament to Eugenides's descriptive skill and characterization that we remain so deeply invested in a story whose ending we know merely from the novel's title.

Perhaps the novel's strongest suit is the restraint with which Eugenides paints his characters: the narrators, a group of teenage boys who lived in the neighborhood of the doomed Lisbon girls, show the appropriate level of detachment from everyone involved. The people they interview reveal astonishing truths; those they don't know as well (including the girls) are subject to spot-on observations that we readers are left to decipher for ourselves.

All in all, the novel is emotionally charged and blisteringly exciting: its five chapters and 200-ish pages fly by amidst a sea of language so well-wrought that the patience of Eugenides's construction can't help but be appreciated. It's a shame he completes a book so infrequently because The Virgin Suicides shows a writer who, even in his first work, shows the talent and promise of a master.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
It's hard to know what to say, really. Eugenides' story is well-crafted and certainly well-written, full of incidental details that make his characters and locations come alive; and yet, there seems to be something just unsatisfactory about it all, as if the choice of narrative structure removes the reader just a little too far from the action for it to strike home emotionally, or that by knowing the ending at the beginning, the rest is just explanation. That said, this is still worth reading, and I have a feeling that a lot of it will play on my mind in the weeks to come.… (more)
LibraryThing member santhony
Like many, I purchased this novel after having read the author's magnificent book, Middlesex. I had also seen the movie, starring Kirsten Dunst, which I recall enjoying quite a bit. Whether in comparison with Middlesex, or the film version, I found the novel lacking.

Perhaps being familiar with the story resulted in a lack of suspense, though there can't really be much suspense when the author reveals the ultimate end game early in the novel. The writing was quite good, though I felt that the story dragged significantly for a good majority of the book.

Bottom line, there's really not much story there. The flowery and descriptive prose can only cover for a slow moving plot for only so long before it quite simply becomes boring. I reached that point at about page 100.
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LibraryThing member gretagarbo
This is a hauntingly real story of a group of sisters growing up under a pair of extremely strict religious parents, and the obsession some boys living on their street had with them. The story begins with the suicide of one of the sisters, the youngest. What follows is a series of humorous, dark, ironic, or revealing situations. I would highly recommend this book to all teenage girls and parents who want to better understand their daughters. In the end, the book tells us something we already know, that suicide is a useless escape that hurts others.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sovranty
This book felt like a never-ending piece of gossip with hints of a stalking nature. Well written and descriptive; however, it felt a little unfocused and jumpy at times. While I probably wouldn't read it again, I gave it 3.5 stars because the curious nature of the book encouraged me to turn the pages.

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