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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: The Lovely Bones

Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Publication Date: 
 August 29, 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie

Summary: The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder -- a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family's need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

Sebold creates a heaven that's calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive -- and then some. But Susie isn't ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part. To her great credit, Sebold has shaped one of the most loving and sympathetic fathers in contemporary literature.

Review: The story focuses on 14 year old Susie Salmon who is taking a shortcut home from school across a cornfield when she is raped and murdered by George Harvey, one of her neighbours. When Susie is killed, her spirit journeys to her personal heaven where she watches over friends and family. Harvey disposes of her body and nervously waits for the heat to die down. Watching from afar, Susie witnesses her family fall apart in the aftermath of her murder, sees the impact it has on her school friends and she even gains insight into the movements of George Harvey as the police run out of clues.

I was pleased that Sebold dealt with Susie’s murder at the very beginning and that it was a brief scene. It’s still not pleasant what happens to this poor girl, but the focal point of this novel is her spirit giving us accounts of the impact on those she knew. Her parents, Jack and Abigail, refuse to accept their daughter is dead until a dog discovers her elbow! The impact on the Salmon family is understandably devastating. Jack and Abigail are driven apart, their daughter, Lindsey, tries to stay strong and shield her young brother, Buckley, from all of the grief. Len Fenerman, the detective investigating the murder, becomes personally involved with the Salmon family, determined to find Susie’s killer but the trail soon runs cold.

Jack Salmon later comes to suspect George Harvey of the murder and Lindsey echoes these suspicions. Between them they try to prove Harvey’s guilt but Fenerman has nothing to go on to arrest the neighbour. As the months then years tick by, Susie watches her broken family struggle to repair itself. Her sister grows up with the support of her boyfriend, Samuel, while two school friends – Ray Singh and Ruth Connors – become closer, united by their mutual pain over Susie’ death. Ray’s hurt is great indeed for he was in love with Susie and she with him, but their brief romance was cut tragically short. By the end of the novel, Susie has talked us through around a decade of events and there is much pain and emotion along the way but it remains enthralling throughout.

There were three moments in The Lovely Bones that I found very moving. Two concerned Susie’s father, Jack. Remembering his hobby of putting ships in glass bottles and how Susie was the only one who shared the interest, Jack immediately begins smashing his collection! In a later scene Buckley is planting seeds in the garden and has retrieved Susie’s clothes from a box, much to the horror of Jack who snatches them back before arguing with his son. The final moment is when the family dog eventually passes away and one day Susie hears him in heaven! Initially worried the dog won’t remember her, Susie is delighted when she is knocked off her feet by the joyful canine. I found little to fault with The Lovely Bones though there was a moment towards the end, which was supposed to be heart-warming, but I found it a little absurd given how excellent the book had been prior to this. For the novel’s length, Sebold covers a lot of emotion here and you will suffer with the Salmon family as they try to find reasons to continue with their lives. This is an extraordinary journey but it is a painful one.

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