Book #33

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her -- her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.

This is an old, battered favourite of mine; first read when I was around the same age as Susie, last read eleven years ago. There’s something to be said about rereading novels as you grow older; at fifteen it’s only a sad story, at thirty-three it’s an unresolved horror.

Although I’m aware this has been widely criticised, there’s just something beautiful here that’s so unforgettable. Susie’s voice, her pain, her family, her killer. All of it combined into a mix of tragedy and inspiration is profoundly memorable.

Sebold confirming the killer’s name near the beginning removes the reader’s crazed rush to find the culprit. It allows us to relax deeply into a character study, into an exploration of grief, and into an omnipresent understanding of family and relationships. I do, however, think this runs out of steam with around 100 pages to go, and there’s some moments towards the end where I really had to focus on suspending my disbelief. Yet, Sebold’s writing remains beautiful, my heart stayed full, and my face remained damp.

Having now experienced the types of loss I couldn’t have begun to fathom eleven years ago, this novel meant a lot more to me. Sebold’s interpretation of what happens to us when we die has glory and merit, but it posed a lot of questions. Could I watch my family grieve over my death? If I could, would I be able to ever leave them behind? To watch would be painful, to not see them again would be worse. A conundrum I hope I’m never asked to solve.

So in closing, in the words of someone who was cruelly taken, I wish you all a long and happy life.