The Lovely Bones

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The Lovely Bones By Alice SeboldThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold has recently been adapted into a film, so it is a story that is quite popular right now. Based upon the rave reviews my colleagues gave it, I decided I would give it a go, even though it is not the type of book I would normally read. Susie Salmon was just fourteen years old when she was murdered in December 1973. Her murderer, George Harvey, was a neighbour, a man her father once talked to about fertilizer and whose border flowers her mother admired.

From heaven, Susie watches her family trying to come to terms with her death. She watches her brother, sister and friends growing up and doing all the things she never got the chance to do herself. Susie’s heaven is idyllic and magical. Everything she wishes for can appear as soon as she thinks of it, except the thing she wishes for the most : to be back on Earth with her family. Susie has a counsellor in heaven who helps her to adjust, but it also seems life is not quite finished with Susie yet.

The story is told from Susie’s perspective as she watches from heaven. It begins with her recounting her murder. Walking home from school through a field she encounters Mr Harvey, who rapes and murders Susie after she agrees to go with him to look at something. It is a harrowing beginning and whilst thankfully we are spared the gruesome details of her horrific murder, there are some details of the rape which makes for heavy reading and some people may find this distressing.

It is a frightening situation that is realistically told. There is no mystery here as we know who murdered Susie and exactly what happened at the beginning of the book. Neither is this one of those so-called ‘misery lit’ books because it is fiction. But because it is a situation that every parent fears – their children being lured away by strangers or even as in this case, someone they know – it is a heartbreaking read for this very reason. It can really happen.

The story features each family member trying to cope in their own way. Susie’s younger sister Lindsey is quite close to her in age and bottles everything up, trying to give off the air that she is coping. Susie watches as Lindsey very slowly comes to terms with the loss of her sister and copes with her life, returning to school, her first boyfriend and being a big sister to younger brother Buckley, who at four years old, is not old enough to take it all in or understand.
Lindsey’s character is very well described and shows how teenagers are often very good at hiding their emotions, maintaining a composed exterior, whilst inside they are in turmoil. You find yourself hoping she will reach out to someone and confide her feelings as around her, her family are coping with their own grief. Susie is watching and can see of course that Lindsey is not coping, but is powerless to do anything.

“The voice that Sebold has given to the character of Susie, is what makes this book for me.”

Susie’s frustration at not being able to do anything to help anyone back on Earth is felt throughout and it is very difficult when following her murder, her body is not found at first. Susie longs to be able to direct the police to where they will find her. Likewise her charm bracelet, which she held dear is also lying undiscovered. Susie can see everything but help no one. She longs to be back with the people she loves and it makes for very sad reading. Sebold has described the emotion and frustration extremely well. Susie’s father is determined to find who killed his daughter. He actually is suspicious of Mr Harvey but there is no evidence to link him to Susie’s death. Once again this is frustrating for Susie as she watches. Her father is a kind and loving man, however, her mother comes across as a selfish woman. Maybe this is what grief can do to people.

George Harvey is a strange character, chilling and obviously with mental health problems. He is seen as a loner, eccentric but harmless. Only Susie knows he killed her. When her father becomes suspicious of George I was willing him to be able to prove his suspicions are correct. There are a few tense moments such as this and at times I felt as frustrated as Susie’s character. Susie’s heaven I found quite confusing. She is trapped in a perfect world: A fantasy place where everyone mingles but also have their own heaven. I couldn’t quite get my head around this, but I think most readers would struggle to understand it fully. It certainly has a magical element which is revealed later in the book and which also involves Susie’s friends.

An easy to read novel, but emotional, frustrating and sad with a few uplifting moments is how I would describe The Lovely Bones. There is nothing really ‘lovely’ about the story, except maybe the magical and fantasy element to it, which is written with warmth and a touch of humour to lighten the story a little. The Lovely Bones is however, a well written insight into how parents and siblings struggle to cope after the tragic death of a young member of the family. The voice that Sebold has given to the character of Susie, is what makes this book for me. Despite the sadness, ‘Susie’s voice’ is an exceptional piece of writing.

The Lovely Bones certainly makes you think about life after death and it certainly left me thinking “What if…?”

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Lovely Bones (The)
by Alice Sebold

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