The Lovely Bones was written by Alice Sebold in 2002 and turned into a feature film in 2009. I’ve never seen the movie but thought if I did want to see it, I’d prefer to read the book first. The Lovely Bones was hard to read in places simply because of the book’s emotional content, and though I enjoyed the writing style and story telling, I have to say overall I wasn’t overly impressed with it, especially the ending.
The Lovely Bones is essentially a ghost story told from the perspective of the ghost. It follows the story of Susie Salmon, a teenage girl who watches her family from her heaven after being raped and murdered by a serial killer living in her neighbourhood. This scene happens almost immediately and is advertised on the book, so I’m not spoiling anything here. The first person narrative is executed quite well – it’s definitely one of the better first person stories I’ve read – however, there was a bit of a fallacy with it. Susie is somehow able to have access to everyone’s thoughts and feelings and memories, and I didn’t understand how that was possible for her since it’s first person, which means the narrator (Susie) only has access to her own thoughts and feelings. She can only observe helplessly from heaven and cannot interact with the living, so I didn’t understand that extra observational ‘power’ she had – unless the author was trying to make her seem ‘God-like’ in an all-knowing sort of way since she literally is now in heaven. Either way, it bothered me for a little while, but I managed to get used to it.
At first I quite liked the story – I mean obviously it was very sad and it was difficult to read the rape scenes, but the writing and story telling was good and the author did a good job of making you sympathize with the characters and wanting them to reunite with Susie; however, there wasn’t really much of a plot to be honest. It was more of a drawn-out situation. I kept waiting for something to happen, something with the killer or Susie’s abilities as a ghost or her family – anything. I can appreciate how Sebold was more so exploring the emotional aftermath in the Salmon family and how each character acclimates to Susie’s death, but it seemed lacking in story somehow. For those of you who have read it, highlight the next few lines to see specifics – WARNING: SPOILERS! I was kind of disappointed that Harvey was never caught and simply dies in a freak accident. I’m glad he died, but I don’t feel like justice was truly had for all the women and children he killed. And at the end when Susie possesses Ruth’s body just to have a bunch of sex with Ray, it was kind of messed up and a bit rapey when you think about it – Ruth never gave consent and if I’m not mistaken, Susie comments after how Ruth is now a woman, which implies that Ruth was a virgin before this happened. So Susie robbed Ruth of her first sexual experiences without her consent, which is extremely ironic given the situation. I saw a lot of reviews on Goodreads that pointed this out and people weren’t too happy about it, and I can see why. It was also quite odd that Ray just went along with it, and I really didn’t believe Susie would even do that in the first place given her own experiences. I mean I suppose I’m glad Susie finally got to have the experience of love and intimacy she never had when she was alive, but I really would have thought she would have made better use of her time on Earth by leading Ray to where her body is or tracking down Harvey and exposing him or even visiting her family one last time.
Overall, The Lovely Bones mainly follows the painful, sad progression around such a terrible loss in a suburban family, and the author did a great job of relaying the grief and making each character seem distinct. But overall, I expected more plot and was simply not majorly impressed with how it concluded, but perhaps that is Sebold’s point: stories like this often aren’t concluded in real life, but the frustrating, depressing family aftermath and healing process around such a loss is still just as important to write about.