Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

(hb; 2002)

From the inside flap:

"When we first meet Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. As she looks down from this strange new place, she tells us, in the fresh and spirited voice of a fourteen-year old girl, a tale that is both haunting and full of hope.

"In the weeks following her death, Susie watches life continuing without her -- her school friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her family holding out hope that she'll be found, her killer trying to cover his tracks. As months pass without leads, Susie sees her parents' marriage being contorted by loss, her sister hardening herself in an effort to stay strong, and her little brother trying to grasp the meaning of the word gone.

"And she explores the place called heaven. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. There are counselors to help newcomers adjust and friends to room with. Everything she ever wanted appears as soon as she thinks of it -- except the thing she wants most: to be with the people she loved on Earth.

"With compassion, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie sees her loved ones pass through grief and begin to mend. Her father embarks on a risky quest to ensnare her killer. Her sister undertakes a feat of remarkable daring. And the boy Susie cared for moves on, only to find himself at the center of a miraculous event."


The novel, considering its horrible subject matter (child murder), is sensitive and balanced. While Sebold shows the dreadful oh-no moments leading up to Susie's murder, she doesn't show much of the actual murder. At the same time, she doesn't spare the reader, focusing on Susie's sensations during the aforementioned event.

Sebold's heaven is mainstream -- God is barely mentioned -- and Susie's "voice" is realistic: while touches of pubescent moodiness appear here and there, death has graced Susie with a certain maturity.

Sebold subtly illustrates the emotive, mutable patterns of grief and anger -- which strike at unexpected moments, triggered by seemingly inconsequential things.

Solid read, worth your time.


The resulting film is scheduled for a January 15, 2010 stateside release.

Peter Jackson directed the film, from a script he co-authored wtih Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens.

Saoirse Ronan played Susie Salmon. Mark Wahlberg played Jack Salmon. Rachel Weisz played Abigail Salmon. Susan Sarandon played Grandma Lyn. Stanley Tucci played George Harvey. Thomas McCarthy played Principal Caden.

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