The Virgin Suicides: A Book Review

TVS Book

I had never read The Virgin Suicides before now. In fact, there was great reason for me avoiding the novel, though the story intrigued me very much. I had seen the film you see, and will never forget the horror I felt as I watched the final act unfold before my eyes. Although the title does give these events away to some extent, very little prepared me for it. When I felt compelled to read the original story, I once again feared the final act, as I knew the words would linger within me far stronger than the film’s imagery had. The images would fade and disappear; the written words would not. This is one of the reasons that  Jeffrey Eugenides’s debut novel The Virgin Suicides is so compelling. His prose is written in such a way that, despite any hesitance you might feel, you cannot help but turn the pages.

The story centers around the five Lisbon sisters – Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia – who are portrayed as figures of unattainable desire by our narrators; a group of neighborhood boys who recount the lives of the girls (and their obsession with them) 20 years after the girls’ deaths. The boys, who are now middle aged men, recount the events in as much detail as possible, and having collected evidence and conducted interviews with all the central figures in the girls lives, set out to piece together a time in their lives that even decades later, they cannot forget. They endlessly try to search for meaning into what the girls did, but can find no answers.

The narrators, like true suburban detectives, recollect a handful of memories, occasions and gestures. The stilted basement party, the only occasion they saw the inside of the Lisbon house, during which Cecilia, the first suicide, went to an upper floor and hurled herself to her death. The homecoming dance which the remaing girls attended as a group date, when Lux stayed out until dawn. This was to be the beginning of the end for the girls as after this, all the sisters were removed from school by their clearly disturbed mother, and incarcerated in their home (their father, though sympathetic, does nothing to help).

As they become more isolated from the world, the narrators made a last ditch attempt to communicate with the imprisoned girls by playing meaningful populour songs down the phone line and trying to conceive an ill-fated plan to free them. Throughout the beautifully written novel, the narrators frustration at not being able to help the girls or find answers to their tragic end is painstakingly obvious. Even after the horror of the final act, they try to piece their lives together, but the ghosts of the Lisbon sisters never really fade out of their lives.

Eugenides gives us a flawed and romantic take on suburban life and uses a tragic theme to tell a tale of unrequited love and immense regret. Wanting to find out where he got his inspiration for such a novel, I came across an article which said he  got his inspiration  from a chance conversation with a babysitter, who told him how as teenagers she and her sisters all attempted suicide, and out of this the reader is treated to an eccentric, beautifully moving debut novel set in the suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan (where in fact, he spent his own teenage years). One cannot help but feel the nostalgia of times gone by throughout, particularly as the boys recount the girls at the Homecoming Dance and the recall a sister saying how they “just wanted to live.” The sisters could not have foreseen then (or perhaps they did?) what turn their lives would take.

For a debut novel, Eugenides (who has since gone on to write many other successful books), treats us to a tragic, darkly humorous and mesmerising read, which I cannot recommend highly enough.  Sofia Coppola’s film is a wonderful companion to the story; keeping all the central ideas of the book in place while putting her dreamy signature style on it. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll surely love the book and if you love the book, the movie adaptation is well worth a watch. It’s the novel that has stayed with me though, despite my finishing it a week ago and it now has a firm place on my top ten favourite books list.

Have you read the book? What did you think of it? Tell all in the comments section!

Comments

  1. Great review, think I may pick up a copy myself! Kinda worried it may be a bit too much for someone like me though, I’m not used to reading :/ Sure we all have to start somewhere 🙂 x

  2. Jennifer says:

    I think you’ll love it Elaine, the story is so good that you really get into it! It’s now one of my favourites. And you can always check out the film beforehand so you know if you can get into it. 😉 x

  3. That sounds so good, I’m definitely going to read it! Great review you really sold it to me!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Excellent stuff Edel, thanks a million! I’m sure you’ll love it, let me know what you think when you’ve finished reading. 🙂

  5. Your review is thoughtfully written, but you may or may not be delighted to know that I don’t agree with it. I found this a frustrating read, which left more questions than answers. And because I never felt I got to know any of the characters, the deaths did not have the impact on me than they should.

    Interestingly, RTE has put the film on its schedules a couple of times, then removed it at the last minutes. What do they imagine would happen if they showed it?

  6. Jennifer says:

    Hi Derbhile, thank you so much for your comments. I can certainly understand your frustrations; you’re feeling exactly what are narrators feel at the end of the story! It’s true that we never really get to know the girls, they are presented to us from the boys point of view and are admired from afar ( so we only know what they know), but all this aside, I still found it very distirbing and sad when the girls (who weren’t givern a chance to live), met their end.

    I’d imagine RTE shy away from showing the film to the very sensitive nature of the story and the effect it might have on viewers.

  7. I love this book, it’s one of my all time favourites. Jeffrey Eugenides is an amazing author. Great review, you really got to the heart of the story.

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