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I have been thinking of this book all day, having finished it this morning, and wondering how I will go about reviewing it. The issues tackled in the book are delicate and complex and I am not yet sure how I feel about what I have read. What is clear to me is that this book is indeed noteworthy. It deals with a subject most of us go out of our way not to think about, and forces the reader to confront some of their most primal and basic fears.
The book was first published in 2002 by Little, Brown and Company in the USA, and Picador in the UK. It is 323 pages long making it a nice, digestible length. My edition also contained an Afterword from Alice Sebold, which served to give more context to the story in direct relation to the author and her experiences.
As I have mentioned, the book deals with some dark and uncomfortable topics. It is written in the first person, from the perspective of a young girl, Susie, who is murdered at the age of 14. She observes her family, friends and community, dealing with her loss and growing up, from her heaven. It is a story of love, loss, grief and acceptance.
“We both listened together to the rain pour down and smelled the earth rising to greet us.
‘You look invincible,’ my mother said one night.
I loved these times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown and said:
‘I am.'” Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (page 206/207)
As I sit here cradling a hot cup of tea, I am struggling to define how this book made me feel. It did not effect me in the way I thought it would. I expected it to be a tear-jerker for me. By all accounts it has had that effect on many people. I thought I would have my heart broken by this book, but I did not. I found it a profound and moving read, but this was more because of the honest and raw characters rather than the death of a child. It has left me questioning the unthinkable. How would I react if this happened to me? What would I do? Even the hypothetical thought of something like this happening to my child fills me with emotions too strong to describe, to powerful to examine closely when I don’t need to.
I think part of the reason I felt a little distant while I was reading the book, however, is that my theories on life after death differ greatly to those Sebold describes. I personally do not believe in a Heaven as such, and so I did find it a little difficult to connect with this aspect of the book. While religion is not an open theme in the novel, it is obvious that her depiction of heaven is drawn from the christian viewpoint. As I do not identify with this, I found it a little harder to connect with the book. Theological differences aside though, I did approve of how her heaven worked, and how each heaven was personal to each individual.
To stray briefly from the theological and philosophical elements of the book, I enjoyed the writing style. I was easy to read and ever so slightly poetic. She manages to convey the tone of a young teenager without the text sounding immature or simplistic. Despite the story playing out over many years, it doesn’t feel as though you miss anything. This is quite a skill, given the book is only just over 300 pages long.
The portrayal of grief is what makes this book both moving and profound. Sebold does not sugar coat anything. Each of her characters reacts to Susie’s death in their own way, and it changes each person gradually, and shapes who they become. It is the raw honesty of this book that, I think, makes it special. It is difficult to discuss this element of the book without revealing spoilers, but I imagine each person who reads it will be affected differently by it based of their own life experience.
“You don’t notice the dead leaving when they really choose to leave you. you’re not meant to.”Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (Page 319)
Frankly, I’m amazed I made it 26 years into my life without reading this book. Perhaps that is down to it not being my usual genre, but, if there is one thing I have learnt since I have started reviewing my reads, its that I should not limit myself. Good books are to be found in all genres. This book is fast become one of those you should read, if you call yourself a reader. It has sold over 10 million copies and seems to divide opinion amongst those who have taken it up. I have certainly come across a host of scathing and glowing reviews since picking it up. I would argue that any book that prompts that sort of passionate response is worth a read.
If you would like a copy, you can pick one up here.