Monday, 15 March 2010

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - Book Review

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?


  1. Oh my goodness *hand to heart* I loved this book and sobbed like a child throughout - but I am easily moved!

    I don't want to see the film. I've heard it's rubbish and Mark Wahlberg plays Susie's Dad and seeing as he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, you're going to lose half the drama in having a weak actor in such a pivotal role. I would be interested to hear from someone who has read and seen though.

  2. I didn't actually cry but then maybe my heart is made of stone!! I did love this book though - seems that you are a sop despite your 'hard sarf lahndan' childhood (NO idea how to spell how you make south london sound! ahem).
    Susie's Dad certainly is completly pivotal - I wouldn't want to see it ruined.

  3. I picked this book up in Shanghai. It was a "pirate copy" on photocopied paper.

    I must say I din't enjoy the book at all. I guess it just wasn't my cuppa as it is clearly very popular.

    That said, the film was awful. In order to get a lower certificate they removed the actual brutality of Susie's murder, they also scrapped her mum's relationship with the detective and the scenes in heaven were like some blown out j-pop video.

    Book to film adaptations do work. The two recent Cormac McCarthy adaptations (The Road and No Country For Old Men) made for excellent films.

  4. I was suprised by how moving I found this book, as I was a bit sceptical of its premise and all the hype. As a sister, Lindsey's reaction especially got to me.

    I thought the movie was a shocker- the heaven scenes are visually and dramatically awful and the voice over and acting were a bit overdone.

  5. I had never heard of this book until the film came out. Sadly, every review of the film, either from Proper Critics or the more candid review of friends ("crap...such crap!"), suggested foregoing the movie and just reading the book. I'm going to have to find a copy of it, I think.

  6. I read the book and liked it but i didn't love it. I found the heaven device not to my liking and felt very judgemental of the mother!

    I think Wahlberg as the father would be ridiculous. Why do hollywood films always make everyone younger?!

    Abs x

  7. I have written a number of articles on this issue and have come to the conclusion that it's not so much that one is better than the other (althoghth books tend to be far better) it is that they are entirely different mediums and need to be approached in such a way.

  8. I thnk Mark Whalberg looks like he wants to be a younger Kevin Bacon (minus the razor like cheekbones) in the trailers :) I loved this book and didn't engage critical senses because I just loved it too much. Heaven should have dogs!

  9. thank you for a lovely thoughtful review. I read this book some years ago and was very moved by it. I went with my girls to see the film and did enjoy it because I did not have a strong memory of the details of the story, and I think that they did manage to capture the atmosphere of the book quite well, but I know what you mean, so often they alter something that changes the whole essence and you are sorry you went.
    thanks for sharing

  10. I just love love your review of it. It will be years if I am lucky before I get my hands on this book but reading your review makes it seem as if the book is at hand. Thank you.

  11. I would avoid the film at all costs. I saw it recently with a friend and was bitterly disappointed (if only I'd read just one film review before entering the cinema!)

    The book is an incredible piece of writing. I read it a few years back and remember being very moved. Your review as always is brilliant Kate and a joy to read.

    Jeanne x

  12. I read this book when it was first published several years ago and did not enjoy it at all! Because of this I decided not to see the film either.

  13. I read the book a couple of years back and it kept me up til very late! Loved it.

    Not so with the movie, though...if you'd like to read my thoughts I kind of mishmashed them together in the post here:

  14. I know a lot of people who really loved this book, but I don't think I'll ever get around to reading it. After a horrible DNF experience with her newer book, The Almost Moon, I think I'm biased against Sebold for life!

    And definitely count me out for the film. The overly-computer-graphicked heaven scenes just looked cheesy.

  15. Cori says....The book contains a lot more stuggles and facts that the movie didnt have.
    Like in the book to me it projects a different person for Susie than the movie did. The mother cheats on her husband...Buck rebels agains his mother however, I didnt really understand the ending of the book when Samuel is talking about the house that Lindsey and and him were planning to move into..

    .I think the book and the movie are very different in a couple of things but it definately worth it!

  16. I am a writer and avid reader who found The Lovely Bones to be one of the most exquisitely rendered stories that I've ever read. This is a riveting, up-all-night book with characters who grow and mature and live and die in heartbreakingly real and beautiful ways. I can not give Alice Sebold's first novel high enough praise.

  17. This is definitely one of the best books I've read in a long time. The prose is literate, the imagery vivid and the characters are well defined. The story's purpose is finally revealed at the end. Some may find it dissatisfying, not understanding its underlying meaning.

    Visit us Alaska Fly Fishing Lodge website