Fiction – paperback; Picador; 328 pages; 2003.
In a nutshell, I liked Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones very much. I was convinced that I’d find it cloying and sentimental but I was surprised to find that it was far from this.
There’s no doubt that it was sad but, like William Trevor’s excellent The Story of Lucy Gault, this sadness wasn’t soppy but made more real because it was tinged with regret, unfulfilled promise and heartbreak regarding what might have been. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire reading experience and found myself getting lost in the story, particularly the first few chapters which gripped me to the point that I completely lost track of time.
In The Lovely Bones, Sebold has created a wonderful set of characters, especially the narrator, Susie Salmon, who tells the story of her family’s life from beyond the grave. Murdered when she was 14 by a neighbour, Susie watches as her parents and siblings try to cope with her terrible death, each one reacting and dealing with their loss in very different ways. From her vantage point in heaven Susie sees everything but this never lessens her love for her family or her strong desire to return to Earth.
It sounds completely airy, fairy but Sebold’s writing is so deft and confident it never resorts to cliché or fairytale extremes; it is totally believable from start to finish and you can’t help thinking that if there is life after death then this is exactly what it will be like.
In much the same way that Anne Tyler takes the ordinary and makes it into something extraordinary, The Lovely Bones is about normal people finding themselves in an abnormal situation and coping with it the best way that they can. This is a mesmerizing book that resonates long after you read the final page. Read it if you can.