Juushika's Reviews > The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
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Sep 20, 08

bookshelves: status-borrowed
Read in June, 2008

In American suburbia, the five Lisbon sisters, ages 12 through 17, commit suicide. The youngest goes first, and after their parents sequester the family within the house, her sisters follow a year afterward. Their story is told by a group neighborhood of boys, now men, who in their fanatic obsession with the Lisbon sister have pieced together the events leading up to—and possibly causing—the suicides. The unusual narrative voice is at once distant and invasively familiar, and paints a surreal image of familiar, ordinary teenage life twisted by stifling overcrowding and overprotection. The narrators never quite determine why the girls commit suicide, but this unanswered question opens up a world of thought for the reader. At pieces sweet and claustrophobic, humorous and unsettling, The Virgin Suicides is strangely engrossing and stands in a class of its own: a unusual novel that investigates without judgment. I highly recommend it.

The novel opens with the suicide of the last Lisbon daughter, and only after revealing the ending does it go back to the beginning and explore the journey through each of the five suicides. The narrators, now-grown neighbors of the sisters, speak across the distance of time and a suburban street. They've pieced their story together through memories, interviews, and mementos collected from the Lisbon house. Needless to say, The Virgin Suicides is an unusual novel from the onset, but these unusual aspects are all strengths. The uncommon first person plural of narrators, which stand at a distance even as they watch the sisters in the privacy of their joint bathroom, captures the reader from the onset, moving swiftly through the plot yet pausing for intimate detail that brings the characters (the sisters, their parents, and even the narrators) to life. It creates a surreal and haunting atmosphere which maintains a sense of mystery despite the blunt introduction of the suicides. The intriguing journey back to the suicide which open the text keeps the book interesting to the last page. As such, the novel's ingenious storytelling makes it hard to put down.

The text is swiftly readable but never disintegrates into a cheap thrill; instead, it is an intelligent, thoughtful book. The suicides are both hook and climax to the story, but the book itself is a journey to and between the suicides. There are a dozen possibilities, but neither the narrators nor the author ever pinpoint what drives Celia, Therese, Mary, Bonnie, and Lux to kill themselves. At some level, this unanswered question is frustrating and makes the end of the book almost teasingly brief. However, the cause of the suicides is essential—and yet somehow irrelevant. What matters is the Lisbon sisters: their life as fractioned representations of modern suburban adolescence, smothered under the protective care of their parents, left forever unfinished by their suicides. The Virgin Suicides is exploration without judgment, opening a world to the reader for him to think on it himself.

I'm was not sure what to expect when I first picked up this book. I was aware of its success and intrigued by the unusual concept, but wasn't quite sure how the latter could lead to the former. Now, having read it, I'm impressed by the connection: Eugenides writes an extreme scenario into the most mundane setting, and so by exaggerating reality he in fact explores it. The sisters are real personalities and also archetypes, images of adolescence which is constrained even as it begins to blossom. The Virgin Suicides is quite brilliant, haunting, readable, intelligent, and thought-provoking. I'm impressed, and glad I had to the chance to read it. I highly recommend this book.
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