I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading The Lovely Bones. It was on my list of books to read for a long time so I asked my Sister to buy it for my Birthday. I picked it up last week and was immediately gripped.
The novel opens in 1973 with the rape and murder of fourteen year old Susie Salmon and the rest of the novel charts the impact of her death upon her family, friends and local community. We immediately know who her murderer is – the recounting of the event is chilling to read as Susie’s narrative voice is both blunt and calm. The real sorrow and emotion develops as Susie watches her family and friends from her Heaven. She remains fourteen and powerless whilst she watches them struggle, grow and change.
Initially, I was concerned only with the capture and prosecution of her killer but as the novel developed my focus gradually weakened and I found myself becoming more concerned with the welfare of the Salmon family. This is Sebold’s strength – that her writing leads the reader through the journey that Susie herself is on. But more than this, Sebold ensures that the reader does not just dwell on a desire to jump in and become a vigilante, erasing the novel of the ‘baddie’ but instead we are placed in Susie’s Heaven. We watch her family and our focus on the murder becomes diluted with their struggles, torment, fracture and ultimately their reconciliation.
Her father and his breakdown is fascinating to read – the overwhelming sence of powerlessness that pervades every moment that we read about him is sorrowful. His obsession with her killer is natural and yet the only person who it has an impact upon is him – not the accused.
The reaction of Susie’s mother is something which I am still grappling with. In some senses I can understand the desire for release and freedom from a horrific situation but ultimately, she had other children and reality can never truly be left behind. As she eventually found out.
Each character is affected by Susie’s death in a unique way – but Sebold captures the relevance of the reaction for each character. Her sister, Lindsey, reacts exactly as a Sister reading the novel can understand. She is forever in shadow and yet frightened that the shadow will one day disappear. Her identity with Susie was entwined in life and in death it becomes even more so.
Sebold manages to write a Heaven that is not an embarrassing cliche – instead it is a slick and succinct device through which Susie Salmon has a voice after death, which is present and immediate. Even when Susie presents herself to members of her family or friends I did not shy away as I may have done if the portrayal had been a romantic one of life after death. In some senses this is a secular Heaven. One in which the protagonist comes of age, matures and is able to enter the new ‘wide, wide Heaven’ an adult. Susie may have been killed at fourteen but we watch her grow as she observes the people around her and discovers the intricacies of human relationships, sorrow, joy and love for the first time.
I haven’t seen the film adaptation and I am not sure if I will see it or not. I rarely find that films based on books are that good – they changed the end of The Painted Veil (a favourite book), Stephen in the film looks nothing like the Stephen in the book of I Capture the Castle and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennett is completely unrecognisable. Have any of you read the book and seen the film of The Lovely Bones – what did you think?