Review: “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

With such an arresting opening sentence like this, how could one resist this story? The Lovely Bones tells the story of the young girl, on the cusp of puberty, who is violently murdered and disposed of. Susie tells us her story from the Inbetween, a place between Heaven and Earth. The Inbetween is Susie’s own particular heaven that she periodically shares with others. It is from her heaven that Susie, unable to let go of her life on earth, watches over her family and the impact of her death playing out.

As Susie watches her family come to terms with her death in their own way, she is also watching her murderer. Despite its premises, it isn’t a typical crime fiction or thriller that Sebold writes but one about life and what it means to be human. The Salmon family was a close knit, average suburban family with loving parents, three kids and a dog. It is through Susie’s narrative that we find out more about her through her family.

The narrative is amazing. It manages to weave in the past, current and future seamlessly. Susie’s narrative is also remarkable in that she begins her story in a somewhat childish voice but as the novel progresses, her narration becomes much more mature, insightful and understanding. It is as if Susie has aged in heaven while forever remaining a fourteen year old girl trapped in pre-pubescent body. Without spite but with some sadness, Susie watches her younger siblings grow up and her younger sister do the things she would never be able to do – fall in love, go to high school, shave her legs , chase the dog or hug her father.

One of the most moving passages in book is when the faithful family dog, Holiday, finally passes on and arrives in Susie’s heaven:

I waited for him to sniff me out, anxious to know if here, on the other side, I would still be the little girl he had slept beside. I did not have wait long: he was so happy to see me, he knocked me down.

The movement of time is seamless and the death of the long serving family dog is a nice little token. Towards the end of the book, Susie realises that her family is finally ready to slowly move on after almost a decade of unanswered answers. And Susie is too and is thankful for the love of her family, that she was beloved. The lovely bones, aside from alluding to her body, also refers to the bones of a beloved family; the strong bones that a family shares.

On a personal note, I first read this when it first came out in 2002 and this is the only re-read I’ve done of it since. I remember being sad but not wholly affected with the book. With more life experience and insight under my belt, the book is remarkably more profound. I am not a soppy reader but I found myself tearing throughout the book.

Alice Sebold is the most wonderful and fluid writer. Reading her work is effortless and her writing remains in your head after you have closed the book.

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5 comments

  1. Glad you liked it, too! I just read “The Lovely Bones” in October/November and absolutely adored it. I also liked the narration – it gave the book a sort of whimsical feel.

    I’m hoping to see the film version of “The Lovely Bones” soon. It was just released in the U.S. – to select theaters, for now.

  2. I remember reading this and I think I got through it in an afternoon because I was so gripped. I’m a bit dubious about the up-coming movie though…! I guess we’ll have to see.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the re-read. Only read it once – that too, very early this year. Found the book to be very thought-provoking, touching upon many sensitive subjects. However, didn’t really enjoy the final fourth of the book. Thought that was pushing it.

    Very impressive debut novel though.

  4. I read this book for the first time a couple of months ago and agree that it is a beautifully written work. The writing took me away into the story immediately. Your comment on how the book affected you differently the second time. I wonder if I would have felt if I had read it when it was originally published. Having a daughter of my own added to the sense of loss and despair and my heart broke for Susie and her family!

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