Opening lines: My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighborhood.
As you can see from these opening lines, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is not a murder mystery or a thriller; as readers, we know right away what happened to Susie and by whom. The opening couple of chapters were difficult to read as we learned the brutality and coldness of what happened to Susie. So, what was it that made this book such an incredible read?
Perhaps it was the choice of using a dead girl as a narrator. Susie watches her family from her version of heaven. She watches them for years after her murder as her little sister and brother grow up, as her mother and father’s relationship changes, and as her friends graduate and experience their firsts. She watches, and she tells us their deepest thoughts, and she pays attention to all of the little things. It is these little things that are the most important.
Perhaps it was the refreshing description of what heaven is. When I saw this film, I was enjoying it until the heaven scenes, which were like a bad acid trip (I imagine; I’ve never tried acid). The book, though, gives us so much more than psychedelic colours. Basically, heaven is what you want it to be – what you need it to be. It is filled with the people you need to help you in your onward journey. It is peaceful, and sounds perfect.
Perhaps it’s because of the beautiful writing. I don’t often take note of passages I love in books, but just had to record these:
There was only one picture in which my mother was Abigail. It was the first one, the one taken of her unawares, the one captured before the click startled her into the mother of the birthday girl… My mother’s eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss. (pg. 43)
She pulled her chair as close to his head as she could and laid her face on the edge of his pillow to watch him breathing, to see the flutter of his eye beneath his eyelid when he dreamed. How could it be that you could love someone so much and keep it secret from yourself as you woke daily so far from home? (pg. 277)
I realized how much I wished I could be where my mother was. His love for my mother wasn’t about looking back and loving something that would never change. It was about loving my mother for everything – for her brokenness and her fleeing, for her being there right then in that moment before the sun rose and the hospital staff came in. It was about touching that hair with the side of his fingertip, and knowing yet plumbing fearlessly the depths of her ocean eyes. (pp. 280-281)
She could not remember the last time she had gone to bed at the same time as her husband. He walked in the room like a ghost and like a ghost slipped in between the sheets, barely creasing them. He was not unkind in the ways that the television and newspapers were full of. His cruelty was in his absence. (pg 314).
Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above and more.
If I absolutely had to pick on something, it would be the jarring strangeness of something that happens towards the end of the book that I don’t want to spoil here, but which I’m sure you’ll know if you’ve read it. A bit odd, but not enough to diminish my experience. This book was, overall, a true joy to read, and much better than the movie in my opinion.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – 5 out of 5 stars.