Book Review: The Lovely Bones by A. Sebold
Memoir in Fiction
It was difficult not to be hooked by the second line of the novel: ‘I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973’.
I have never had a problem suspending my belief when reading fiction, but I know of some people who were turned off by the afterlife idea in the film. Rest assured, a reader does not have to believe in the afterlife to enjoy the ride here and by using a ghost - the raped-then-murdered Susie Salmon as the narrator - Sebold can travel backwards into characters' pasts as well as stay abreast of their present lives, which she does so with intent. The lives of all those affected are observed carefully, in an almost omniscient fashion; we understand their feelings and their drives more deeply than many modern narratives. There is even a somewhat sensitive insight into the serial killer rapist.
There were parts early on and occasionally at other times when I grew fearful of Sebold. I am not a reader drawn to memoir and Sebold clearly utilises memoir-style techniques in The Lovely Bones. She frequently flashes back and explores past moments with the ease of a highly skilled memoir writer. She does, I grudgingly admit, pull it off with some superb craftsmanship.
And whenever I was convinced that I was going to be drowned in a memoir-style narrative, Sebold would add a tantalising part: a stolen kiss, a clue; an insight into the serial killer’s upbringing; a deft switch of character, ‘sinful’ behaviour; connection and disconnection within relationships; and of course the innovative ghostly ‘other worldly-ness’ of it all.
While the impact of a girl’s death on a family suffices for an emotional story, Sebold takes it to an entirely new level here. And she certainly does not overwhelm the reader with misery; there is plenty of light in The Lovely Bones and gentle humour too. Her prose is generally spare, occasionally detailed and almost always beautiful.
Structurally, The Lovely Bones is a poised, almost flawless work.
With The Lovely Bones Sebold successfully paints a picture of childhood, growing up, familial love and friendship; and conjures up for the reader those forgotten places in the past as well as those precious stolen moments. It is a highly (and painfully) accomplished work.