The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
Fiction | Crime & Mystery
“The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder — a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family’s need for peace and closure.
The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.
Sebold creates a heaven that’s calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive — and then some. But Susie isn’t ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part. To her great credit, Sebold has shaped one of the most loving and sympathetic fathers in contemporary literature.”
pooled ink Review:
…well…I’m never leaving my house again. Haha I’m joking but honestly it’s these types of books that have me developing acute agoraphobia (it’s why I had to stop watching Law & Order: SVU as a kid haha).
I admit, I saw the movie way before I decided to sit down and read the book. I remember seeing it pop up on Netflix a few years back and thinking, yeah why not? Well I’ll tell you why not. I was alone in a cave-like apartment in Atlanta (not a suburb of Atlanta, Atlanta) and the movie was so good (the acting was stellar, the plot, the backtracking, the setting, everything was really well done) that when my brother came home from work I almost fell off the couch in fright (but of course I’ve been known to be startled by my own reflection in the bathroom mirror at night so take my reaction with a grain of salt haha).
…I’m not sure if how I’m describing this will make you go yay or nay haha but suffice it to say that if you like murder mysteries/thrillers then you should definitely check this one out. And that goes for the book too.
Now, when it comes to mysteries in book form I can be a bit tough to impress. Honestly it’s not really a genre I gravitate towards (BBC mysteries? Yes. Novel mysteries? Meh.). They always seem to drag on and involve people I couldn’t care less about. I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s books and that’s about where I stop except for a few surprises (most that I’ve found through being a book reviewer). When the media was exploding with hype over The Girl on the Train (uh, the movie not the book because when does the media ever care about books?) I decided I had to read it but that book put me to sleep. Everything was so obvious and she had a drinking problem and kept moaning and I just didn’t care (in case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m not a very empathetic person #INTJ lol). So I was hesitant to read this book but hey I went for it.
Okay yes, I read this book slower than I do most books but that wasn’t because it was boring. I’m gonna be straight up, it was because it was creepy and even daylight didn’t feel safe enough haha. Sebold’s writing was so atmospheric and gripping that I was invested from the first few pages. She was detailed and graphic when necessary, she emphasized emotion over detail when that was required, she had this insanity planned out explicitly and the characters were too dimensional to feel comfortable with. I was both freaked out and utterly intrigued.
Susie Salmon’s murder is horrific but while that’s obviously the catalyst for the entire book, in a way it’s not the star. Throughout the novel everyone is pointing fingers, pulling their hair, digging for clues, anything to figure out what happened and who. But this novel goes beyond the chase of the case and dives deeper into how a horrible nightmarish tragedy like a 14-year old girl’s murder might affect those left behind in the land of the living.
It goes beyond just her, beyond her household, beyond her school, beyond her community. The tangling and entertaining of threads is impressive and realistic. The emotions and hardships the characters go through are sometimes tough to endure but it is also this exploration into the different way people cope with tragedy and shock that was intriguing. People are such complex creatures and when our comfortable routines are shattered only God knows how we’ll survive.
Oh and there’s this really interesting interpretation of Heaven/purgatory where Susie goes after dying. It seems like a dream world, a bit nonsensical and totally manipulatable, but from there she can come to terms with her reality to move on and she can also watch the people in her town struggling to solve her disappearance. Usually in a murder mystery the victim dies and that’s the end of their role in the story but afterlife is such a common belief that yeah, why not explore what that might be like? It added a really interesting angle on things to keep Susie in the mix.
(Okay I did have some issues with some aspects of keeping Susie in the mix…like, um, body borrowing and…things…but #spoilers so I can’t say more)
Oh boy but what had me creeped out the most (obviously) was the killer. Not just what he did (although that OBVIOUSLY had me freaked the hell out and wanting to lock my doors) but how he was able to function prior and after the act. Everyone likes to believe that a murderer looks creepy, sketchy, or somehow obviously dangerous, but the fact is that killers come in all shapes and sizes and could be the sweet old lady living next door. That is what makes a great horror story. Never mind monsters and gangsters and one-eyed janitors. The stuff of true nightmares is made of the things you trust most. That delicious cookie you’re eating could be your last. What? Why? Maybe a psycho enjoys manipulating the roulette of death and you grabbed the lucky number. So that route you jog on each morning…Did you ever notice the bland minivan dad always watering his begonias at the same time you run past his house every day? Could be a coincidence or it could be a psycho plotting your murder.
THE WORLD IS A SCARY PLACE, DUDE.
Okay, hold up. Now this is just turning into unintentional fear mongering. I apologize. My imagination tends to get carried away and for some reason I allow my fingers to type it onto the internet haha.
But yeah, this book was really good. So if you’re into murder mysteries then you should definitely consider picking this one up. Or watch the movie. Whichever. (I’ll add the trailer below in case you’re interested).
Note: This isn’t an action book so if that’s what you’re hoping for then you should probably go for the movie adaptation as it cuts a lot of the fat. Like I mentioned a big part of this novel is taking a look into how Susie’s murder affects the lives she’s torn from as well as Susie herself. So…yeah. Just a note so you don’t go into this expecting some ghost story action plot and get disappointed lol.
The Lovely Bones is a murder that will haunt your thoughts. Filled with ordinary life, ordinary people, and one case that shatters it all, it’ll have you pondering horror, coincidence, grief, anger, and desperation with a morbid intrigue into how it all plays out. Chilling, intricately crafted, exquisitely written, this is a novel that will watch you from its shelf.
Purchase here: The Lovely Bones
Meet Alice Sebold!
Alice Sebold is an American writer. She has published three books: Lucky (1999), The Lovely Bones (2002), and The Almost Moon (2007).