Friday, December 9, 2011

Bookworm Time with Bebb...Part Two...'The Virgin Suicides' by Jeffrey Eugenides

Well, it's Saturday, which is book review day here at Bebb and the Bubs. Last week I reviewed a recent Australian psychological thriller. This week I am reviewing a haunting yet tender tale set in middle-class 1970's America.

by Jeffrey Eugenides

From the very first sentence of this novel, we know that the five Lisbon sisters, all beautiful teenagers, committed suicide, four within the space of a week. What we do not know is why, and by the end of the book we are still not sure. From the very first paragraph we know the basic plot, and we have caught the book's tone- wry yet seductive, melancholy yet blackly humourous. And we also know that we want to keep reading.

The story is seen through the eyes of the neighbourhood boys who worshipped the Lisbon girls from afar. They are now middle-aged men and still cannot forget that last summer when the girls chose to slip away, one after the other. They return again and again to their 'exhibits'- letters and diary entries and notes from the girls, photographs, wilted prom corsages- as they struggle to make sense of the events that occured all those years ago, proving that the Lisbon sisters still hold the same hypnotic spell over them as they did when alive.

We never really know the girls- from introverted Cecilia, 13, the first to go, to promiscuous Lux, shy Bonnie, bookish Mary and the eldest, Therese- as we only see them through the eyes of the boys, and never inside their heads. After Cecilia's first suicide attempt, Mr and Mrs Lisbon attempt to bring cheer to the pious household by allowing the girls to hold a chaperoned party, but after Ceclia succeeds in her second attempt, the family closes in on itself and the boys watch from afar as the girls' spirits begin to dwindle. They try to help, to somehow reach the girls and pull them back from the edge, but things move towards what we know to be the inevitable conclusion as the reader is both haunted and compelled by the prose. 

Rarely does one find a novel so beautifully, hypnotically written, so that each sentence flows seamlessly into the next and seem to float from the page with the lilt of poetry. The melancholy subject matter is nontheless shot through with moments of black humour which glitter among the seductive, elegant writing style. This is a book to be savoured, a thought-provoking read that fills one's mind with clear, resonating imagery as the nameless narrators return again and again to the events of that last summer and the luminous, fragile girls they could not save.

 It is a book that requires multiple readings and exerts a powerful spell over the reader, transporting us straight to that middle-class, middle-American neighbourhood of yesterday. The movie adaption was good, and retains the dreamy, sun-drenched yet melancholy feel of the book, but nothing can capture the hypnotically entrancing voice of the novel and its lilting prose as we are allowed inside the minds of the boys and wish we had the same insight to the girls. A superb book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Brilliant, haunting, unforgettable. 

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