First of all – what a bizarre title! Yes, it comes from a quote in the book, but I still have no clue what bones are lovely, and why, exactly, bones are lovely in the first place.
Secondly, my best friend lent this book to me, saying that I was going to detest it. She certainly had a point – any weepy, and/or ‘meaningful’ plots lose my interest in 0.5 seconds flat, including, but not limited to, novels’ whose blurbs that contain the words “… a touching story”. Erm, no thanks. I’d much rather read a story where ‘action’ isn’t a synonym for an emotional breakthrough.
Having said all that – and you know what I’m going write next, don’t you? – it wasn’t all bad. In fact the only bad parts were a) the ending, because those paragraphs read like an inspirational fridge magnet; and b) the weird part where a character possessed someone’s body to get laid.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s the late 70’s in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and Susie Salmon was brutally raped and murdered at fourteen. She spends the rest of her non-life alternating between chilling in heaven and watching her family, friends, and even her killer, continue their lives on Earth. Slightly voyeuristic, eh?
The Lovely Bones is a pretty light read. I’m not saying it’s fluffy or anything (aside from the aforementioned fridge magnet), but the author doesn’t feel the need to whack her readers over the head with how much of a traumatic experience the protagonist went though. Nor do we have to endure long descriptions about all the grief Susie’s family members are grieving about. Sebold seems quite content to let her readers grasp characters’ feelings quite intuitively, which goes a long way towards stopping The Lovely Bones from degenerating into a giant chick flick moment.
The author also injects a touch of sinister atmosphere every now and then, reminding us, ‘hello, ghostly dead girl narrating the story here.’ Sure, there’s all the noise about whether or not Susie’s killer – her next door neighbour – will be discovered, but what I particularly liked was Ruth’s visions of dead women. Ruth, a girl who barely spoke to Susie when she was alive, became obsessed, and, indeed, in love with Susie after her death. Ruth’s fixation triggered her (latent?) psychic abilities, adding the perfect amount of intrigue to the novel’s ambience.
Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones movie
I did my typical nosing around after finishing The Lovely Bones, and learnt that Sebold was sexually assaulted walking home one night from university. Which was a little awkward to discover. I honestly couldn’t have picked it; The Lovely Bones has none of that harrowing experience vibe going for it. Hopefully, Sebold was able to get some closure from her writing.
On the flip side, The Lovely Bones is so focused on women, that it excludes the opposite gender. Apparently women are the only ones vulnerable to rape and murder.
Which leads on to what I found so interesting about the novel – inasmuch as a book is able to embody a gender, not to be confused with a genre, The Lovely Bones is intensely female. I already mentioned how readers are expected to grasp the novel intuitively; aside from Susie’s killer, every male character is loving, sensitive, forgiving, perceptive and, excluding their ‘male’ (it was the 70’s) occupations, inhabit stereotypical female attributes. It’s like Sebold created this familiar and comforting world just for one gender.
Here, then, is how I would describe the novel: a graceful and, well, lovely book, that doesn’t shy away from, nor ever display ostentatiously, its grisly bare bones.