The Virgin Suicides

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Paper Book, 1993




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


The five Lisbon sisters are brought up in a strict household, and when the youngest kills herself, the oppression of the remaining sisters intensifies. As Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Lux are pulled deeper into isolation by their domineering mother, a group of neighborhood boys become obsessed with liberating the sisters. But what the boys don't know is, the Lisbon girls are beyond saving.

Media reviews

Mr. Eugenides is blessed with the storyteller's most magical gift, the ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
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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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 msf59
“In the end, the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.”

“We couldn't imagine the emptiness of a creature who put a razor to her wrists and opened her veins, the emptiness and the calm.”

The Lisbon family consists of both parents and five teenage daughters. The girls have led a sheltered life, being reined in by a strong-willed bible-thumping mother. One fateful night, the daughters are allowed to have a chaperoned party, at their home. In a shocking turn, the youngest commits suicide and over that summer the rest follow suit. The story is told in a collective voice, representing the neighbor boys, who are infatuated with the girls and have followed their every move.
Of course, this impressive, challenging debut novel, takes getting used to and I can understand why so many readers have been completely turned off by it. Fortunately, I began to lock into it's dark, disturbing groove and was dazzled by his introspective prose and inventive style. Lots to chew on here and I am not sure a single reading, can digest it all.

**I also followed up, by watching the film version, directed by Sophia Coppola, which is very faithful to the novel but suffers from being a bit chilly and aloof. If you like the book, I still recommend seeing it.
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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 TheAmpersand
As a demonstration of literary craft,"The Virgin Suicides" succeeds like few other books. The prose that Eugenides uses to create his doomy, nostalgic vision of seventies-era suburban Detroit is just about note-perfect. His prose is sensual and hormone-infused -- the stuff of the teenage experience -- but also achingly sad and afflicted with a nameless ambient fear. The novel's also interesting from a technical perspective: it's written in sort of an informal first-person plural, in sort of collective teenage voice. This isn't merely a grammatical stunt: the sheer quantity of names mentioned effectively recalls that period of teenage sociaization in which friend groups can be both large and intimate and in which rumor and information and rumor are essentially common property. At the same time, the narrative elements set in the present -- which involve a meticulous, legalistic examination of the physical evidence left behind by the Lisbon sisters, recalls a true crime documentary, a genre that really hadn't come into its own at the time that the book was written.

You could also argue that "The Virgin Suicides" is an indictment of spiritually stultifying suburban life: the book suggests that the Lisbon sisters might have been driven to their deaths by sheer boredom. Because both the Lisbon sisters and the boys who reminisce about them seem excruciatingly aware of the strict confines of their white, wealthy, culturally conservative neighborhood, you could argue that it's a case study in the way that class and race limit and impoverish experience. You could argue that it's a demonstration of how the idealization of young women essentially silences them; the narrators were fascinated with these five girls, but also admit that they didn't really know them. "The Virgin Suicides" is one of those complex, well-constructed books that easily lend themselves to multiple interpretations. Honestly, if this one has a flaw, it's that the author spells all of this out a bit too clearly in the books final pages, when a number of his characters speculate openly about why the Lisbon sisters might have killed themselves. While other reviewers might dispute this, I'd argue that the collective narrator of "The Virgin Suicides" is unusually reflective and quite aware that the narrative they constructed around the Lisbon sisters might have contributed to their problems. Most books as unashamedly lyrical and finely wrought as "The Virgin Suicides" don't usually exhibit that level reflexivity. This is one skillfully constructed novel.

In the end, I suspect that whether you'll like this book will depend on how much attention you think a story like this deserves. Readers with an allergy to nostalgia or sentimentality may feel that Eugenides is simply investing too much in material that doesn't really stand up to this sort of scrutiny. This is, after all, a novel whose most poignant scene involves teenagers playing soft-rock ballads to each other over the phone. It seems inevitable that some people will take "The Virgin Suicides" as a pretty but insubstantial exercise in sugary bathos. And they might not be wrong: America's absolutely obsessed with pretty dead teenagers these days, after all, and maybe it always was. But alongside this somewhat familiar story, we also get glimpses of the problems and the loneliness that our narrators encountered after they grew out of their neighborhood and tried to make their lives in an America that changed radically -- and perhaps not for the better -- after the Lisbon girls took their leave of them in the mid-seventies. "The Virgin Suicides" isn't just a novel about the Lisbon sisters; it's also a novel about what happens to you after a near-idyllic adolescence leaves you unprepared for what might come next. This is something that both the Lisbon sisters and the narrators have in common, and Eugenides seems to be suggesting that the young women at the center of this book just saw it first. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member JosephCamilleri
Over the span of a year in the early 1970s, the five teenage Lisbon sisters commit suicide, leaving an indelible scar on the close-knit Michigan community where they live. Twenty years later, the unnamed narrator, one of a group of young men besotted with the Lisbons, tries to give an account of those tragic events. His intention is to present an objective report, complete with “exhibits” and testimonies. The prose, however, is anything but detached or scientific – it often burns with a febrile, poetic intensity. The very normal suburban setting becomes the backdrop for a surreal tale which veers from gothic tragedy to dark comedy and back again. These incongruities invite an allegorical reading – the Lisbons as metaphors for the boys’ coming of age and sexual awakening, the novel itself as an unbearably nostagic elegy for a past which seems just beyond reach and yet will never come back.… (more)
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 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 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 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 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 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 ASKelmore
From my Cannonball Read V review ...

This novel is one of my sister’s favorites so I needed to check it out. While it isn’t one of mine, it isn’t bad. It was a pretty quick read, and definitely held my interest. I just had some issues with it.

The title tells you what’s going to happen in the book. There’s no surprise, really, except in how the five sisters will all take their lives by the end of the book, but the first couple of pages make it clear that they do. As a plot device, that works in this instance.

The first issue is the narrative structure – the book is told from a collective first person. The guys in town who attended school with the sisters provide all of the detail. The guys have names (well, some of them do), but the perspective is of them as a group. It’s an okay idea, but it definitely prevents anyone from taking personal responsibility for their perspective. They appear to be discussing the events years and years after they occurred, trying to figure it all out in their minds by piecing together evidence and interviews, but it’s sort of awkward.

The second issue stems from the first, and that is that because the narrative comes from a group of men, all we learn about these women is how guys see them. How they may be idealized, or put on a pedestal, or judged by their male peers seems especially cruel given the subject matter. These women are apparently only coming alive to the reader because of how some men noticed them. That’s sad to me.

Because of the above two issues I almost feel like I’m missing something. I’d love to talk about this book in a literature class to see if maybe the devices that bothered me just completely went over my head. But the further I get from the book the less I like it.
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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 nmaloney
Egenides is a fascinating writer and he writes a haunting dark tale of suburbia.
LibraryThing member LynnB
I liked this book a lot. It tells the story of five sisters who commit suicide over the course of a year, through the eyes of the neighbourhood boys who are intrigued...even obsessed...with the girls. You never really know why the girls kill themselves, but I think that's the message of the story. We never really know what goes on in the minds...or the homes...of our neighbours.… (more)
LibraryThing member mmhubbell
I've had this book kicking around the house for years, and tho I've seen the Coppala film several times, and really enjoyed Middlesex, also by Eugenides, I had yet to read this. It's hard to not envision the film as you read it.. however, the narrative voice and the details add a much richer dimension to the story than the "distanced" feeling one gets from the film.

If you aren't familiar with the story... In a (Michigan?) suburban town, several boys -- in particular the unnamed narrator -- watch with interest and obsession, the lives and deaths of the five Lisbon sisters, across the street. Ranging in age from 13 to 17, and appearing nearly identical to the observer, the blonde sisters seem to have an otherwordly, secret mystery about them, which is only further enhanced when the youngest sister finally succeeds - on her second try - to kill herself. The family turns inward, cutting the girls off from society, making them like captured princesses in a slowly deteriorating suburban castle. The observing boys - never quite old enough or cool enough to feel the girls had any interest in them - watch, take notes, gather evidence, and wait for the time when they hope they might recue them from their doomed fate.

A modern day allegoriser, Eugenides specializes in the dark reality that lurks behind "normal" American middle class society.
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LibraryThing member jaypoxx
I really liked the book. I like how the narration went. Sad and with parts that are funny at the same time.

I remembered this smart and really beautiful girl who killed herself when I was in High School and reading the book somehow made me remember her.

It does capture the nostalgia of adolescent love and how the girls, the boys knew more than some (but still doesn't) touched their lives is both touching and a bit creepy at the same time.

I will probably look out for more of Eugenedes's books in the future.
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