64. The bare bones of The Lovely Bones?

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?

Alice Sebold

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.

 

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13 responses to “64. The bare bones of The Lovely Bones?

  1. The body possession part was almost unbearably bizarre. But besides that, I kinda liked this book too. The movie was TERRIBLE though.

    • I know right? It added nothing to the plot, and was so weird. Ooh, thanks for telling me about the movie. I thought the trailer looked pretty bad, but wasn’t sure. Definitely not seeing it now. I’ll just but content with the book, which, let’s admit it, is pretty easy to be contented with…

  2. When I taught high school years ago, we read this in the book club. One of the girls wanted to read it and and then we all found found it disturbingly strange. I can’t imagine it being made into a full length movie. Maybe I forgetting something about the book. That’s quite possible. As much as I love to read, I have a horrid memory.

    • Peter Jackson personally bought the rights to the movie, and described it as an emotional thriller … with some romance. Which turned me off immediately. I think parts of the book were a little weird, but I thought it was an overall light (and non-graphic) read. These sorts of books aren’t usually my cup of tea, so I’m quite impressed that I managed to finish it AND like it.

  3. There is a movie based on the book? What Hollywood wouldn’t do? It is always troublesome reading books that is based on female assault. It is one of societal ills. Aside from that, fantastic review. I am glad that it was not a graphic read for you and that you actually wound up liking the book. Weird, I am up so early this morning. It being a Friday for me–I instantly thought I was going to miss the one class I use to have on Fridays! It would seem I am still coming down off of the last 4.3 years. I’ll catch up with the world sooner or later.

    • I never read those sorts of books, but I wonder if there’s books on male assault? It just seems like such a taboo topic.

      Haha, oh I avoided scheduling classes on Fridays at all (Thursdays being student night at clubs & tavern), but it’s the best feeling when you wake up thinking you have a class on & then realise ‘oops, I’ve finished FOREVER’.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I’m glad you found it not so as bad as everyone else made it out to be. I honestly can’t remember the ending, but I think the words ‘lovely bones’ cropped up in like, the last line? I’ve got mixed feelings about the title.

    But yes, it was refreshing to read this without all the heavy emotional stuff. Great review!

    • The words ‘lovely bones’ popped up in the last chapter as a metaphor, but it didn’t quite make sense. I don’t know, I think the title suited the book, but not when she tried to incorporate the words into the actual story…

  5. Great review! I haven’t read it, but the movie was really, really awful. I’ve wondered if the book was as bad…

  6. You know, I would never take such a book without any recommendation but I suppose it might be not bad.

    • I never would have either. It was on my list, but I was putting it off. In the end, I was really bored one day & had no books to read… The Lovely Bones certainly surprised me – in a good way.

  7. I’ve always wanted to read this book… Hope I can do it someday in my life.

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