Book Review: The Lovely Bones

“Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.”

Rating:

The Lovely Bones is a best-selling book written by Alice Sebold in 2002, telling the compelling story of the narrator, Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl in suburban 1970’s Pennsylvania, who is raped and murdered by her neighbour on her walk home from school.

Susie’s body is never found, thus she finds herself trapped in the ‘in-between’ as she is haunted by the man who ended her life. Susie must now accept her fate as she watches her family fall apart in dealing with their despair from her “own perfect world” in heaven.

The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.

The Lovely Bones is a chilling and haunting story, but it’s also an uplifting tale of acceptance and redemption. Susie is a beautifully created character full of optimism and hope and, as she experiences longings for the everyday things she can no longer do, it’s easy to find yourself drawn in by her character.

The story doesn’t work as a mystery, since we are detailed the crime as it happens, but it certainly has the feel of a thriller. With Susie narrating from heaven, we know who the monster is, but we are but spectators unable to do anything to help the other characters. and it is their struggles that we share.

As the police end their investigation into finding Susie’s killer, her father becomes filled with guilt and starts to obsess over trying to find the answers. Susie tries to help her father from heaven, but only tears her family apart more. Now, she must choose between her desire for vengeance or for letting her family heal and move on with their lives.

“My name was Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Narrated by Susie after her death, the first few chapters detail her rape and murder from her own point of view. Although these scenes are the main focus of this story, Sebold uses a brilliant narrative technique to make them less hard-hitting. Instead of giving all of the unneeded and gruesome details, Susie often focusing on the distractions of her mind, taking away the focus from what’s actually happening.

The first few chapters are a heavy read, but although they are set around such an upsetting subject, it is based on Sebold’s own experience of rape, which she uses to approach this traumatic experience with sensitivity, telling the horrifying story in a way that completely immerses you in Susie’s ordeal.

Sebold’s writing is beautifully poetic from start to end, and there are many chunks of text that stand out throughout. For me, it was the paragraph where Susie describes her bones as being connections between loved ones, which is where the book takes its title from, that meant most:

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”

The book is bitterly heartbreaking at times, but mostly it’s a gentle ghost story, as Susie watches over her family as they try to go on with their lives after her death, while she comes to terms with being able to do nothing to help them or find her way back.

And although Susie is telling her story from heaven, there is no mention of a God, so it doesn’t come across as preachy. Instead, it’s comforting to read someone’s perspective of what happens after we die, and there’s some really lovely messages that shine through.

Beautifully written, there is no denying the standard of Sebold’s work. It is an outstanding story full of great emotion, and it will remain one of my favourite books for years to come.

The Lovely Bones was adapted into a film in 2009, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below:

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