The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Posted April 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey EugenidesTitle: The Virgin Suicides (Goodreads)
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: Bloomsbury, 1993
Pages: 249
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan are fascinated by the death of 13-year-old Cecilia Lisbon and then eventually her four older sisters. All five suicides have been the subject of much confusion as everyone tries to piece together an explanation for these acts. The girls seemed so normal and twenty years later their enigmatic personalities are still the subject of much speculation as the boys recall their adolescence and infatuations with the Lisbon girls.

The Virgin Suicides is told by an anonymous narrator in the first person plural as he and a group of men recall their obsession over the Lisbon girls. This is an interesting way of showing the story because you never really find out their motivations and all you can really do is speculate based on the evidence these boys have collected. At times I think the girls suffered from depression, being in an overly protective home and being avoided at school. While their parents were overly protective, there is never really any signs of abuse and they are just trying to raise the girls up in a way they thing is right. Then at school it never seems like the girls have any friends and just stick together; there is no indication that any of the other girls in school talked to them and all the boys seemed too obsessed with them that they never really socialise with the girls either. Does this mean they suffer from depression? I don’t know but being treated like a prisoner at home and a leper at school would be difficult.

Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese (17) all have their own personalities and this never comes through in this book. The idea of the boys worshipping them all without really knowing how to tell them apart is an interesting concept. High School infatuation really doesn’t give way to really understanding the girls and that was one of the major problems the girls had. As they reflect on what happened they refer to themselves as the “custodians of the girls’ lives” but none of them really took anytime to truly know them when they were alive; they just piece together based on their memories and the evidence they took from their house. To me this is the key to this whole book; they can never really know what the girls felt because they were too scared to find out and the parents kept them on a tight leash.

I love this book, it’s deliciously bleak and Jeffrey Eugenides is just a wonderful writer. I’m surprised how well thought out and polished this is for a debut novel; it outshines a lot of other books.  Eugenides is fast becoming a favourite of mine; I adored The Marriage Plot and now only have his most talked about novel, Middlesex to read. I love the combination of darkness and elegance in this book, mix that with this thought provoking concept you really do get a sense of why Eugenides is such a great author.

While the subject matter of suicide is difficult to approach, I think Jeffrey Eugenides did a masterful job at showing just how devastating it is for everyone around. He adds that intrigue that never quite goes away and then he also questions the town’s people and even the reader into what we can do to recognise this pain and maybe help prevent it. No matter how many clues you search for in this book, can you really know the true motivation behind the girl’s suicides? This is what makes this book so great; it doesn’t give you the full answer but leaves you with some many options. I think this is the point, there normally isn’t one clear answer to why someone would take their own lives; it is collection of little things the build up until they can’t take it anymore.

I’ve not seen the movie adaptation of this book and quite frankly I’m a little scared. I don’t know how it would work as a film. I know it could probably convey the heartbreaking concept of this book but the beauty of this book would be almost impossible to translate onto the screen.

It is a weird concept to think of a book about suicide as beautiful or gorgeous but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Sure the subject matter is dark (which I love anyway) but the way Jeffrey Eugenides approaches it is first class. There is no finger pointing and no reason to play the blame game, it focuses solely on the Lisbon Girls and just how much the town didn’t know about them. A haunting read but never really going too dark, the balance between tragedy and understanding is just perfect.

0 responses to “The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. I saw this movie and loved it for years before I knew it was a book! You should definitely see the movie, it’s beautiful and dreamy, yet eerie and heartbreaking at the same time. I love Jeffrey Eugenides, he writes such amazing books. Have you read Middlesex?

  2. AnnabelSmith

    This is one of the very rare occasions where I have to say I prefer the movie to the book. The movie had such a dreamy quality, whereas I remember feeling vaguely disappointed by the book, although I can’t exactly recall why now.

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