Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones

30Jan09

This is Sebold’s debut novel, and while there’s lots of loopholes in the story, the premise in itself is interesting.

A 14 year old girl is raped and killed by a neighbor on her way home from school, one evening. In the story, the girl, Susie Salmon (the book does start: My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie), observes her family and her friends in the aftermath of her disappearance, from heaven, as they struggle to come to terms with it, and deal with it in a variety of ways. I say, ‘her disappearance’ as her body is not found, all the cops find is an elbow, which they identify as hers.

While the family falls apart; with the mother leaning on the cops for support, and eventually running away to California; the father correctly suspecting one of the neighbors and being hell-bent on proving his guilt; the sister swinging between missing her older sister and dealing with people staring at her and only noticing her dead sister; and her younger brother not knowing why his sister isn’t coming home. A very unlikely person takes on the role of trying to bring the family together…

The story touches on many interesting ideas, like how the dead watch their near and dear ones and want to be close to them, as much as possible; as well as, how their near and dear ones can actually sense them at times. It addresses ‘the cold chill’ that people feel when someone dies, and the soul touches them on its way to heaven, and how they’re perpetually haunted by them (imagine being a doctor in the ICU!). There are also traces of wistfulness in Susie’s narration, as she sees her friends and sister growing up, going to college, having their first love and everything else which she’ll never be able to do. Some of the detail and emotions present in the book (specially in the first chapter, when the rape and subsequent murder actually happens and the family reports her missing and later on, when her father remembers her) is well carved out (excuse the crass pun), and beautifully written. It does remind us that the author herself was a victim of sexual assault during her college days.

However, like I said, the premise is interesting, but… the book doesn’t work like a mystery story with people being intent on finding the guilty party (it only seems important to the father and sister). Then you have the whole chapter where Susie occupies her friend’s body, to kiss her crush, which, in my opinion, is pushing it. It’s not supposed to be the X-Files after all. And of course the whole idea of an ever-expanding heaven just seems like overkill.

It’s a book with potential, probably well-written for a first novel. Overall, a 6 on 10?

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