Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (5/5)

The back says: The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides’ classic debut novel.

The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over the crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.

I say: I knew I was going to fall achingly in love with this after reading the first sentence:

“On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”

I mean, how perfect a beginning is that?

What unfolds is a tragic tale about the five Lisbon sisters, told by the boys who loved and admired them from afar. The way that this is written, in a sort of hazy, poetic prose, brings to memory sleepy summer evenings with nothing better to do than to sit and listen to someone talk about their past. It’s all so extremely intimate and personal and almost tangible – I just want to reach out and grab it.

Be a part of it, somehow.

Never letting go.

The novel is written like a report, or an account of events, where the boys (now men) have gone back and talked to people who grew up with the girls to try to figure out why they all committed suicide and, in a way, if they could have done anything to prevent it. It was interesting how different people remembered events differently, and also how many small signs were ignored – or actually, I should say misunderstood. The night of the suicides was really terrible to read about. Just the way they went about it all, the precise calculations and sheer intent.


But it wasn’t all bad. Some of the anecdotes, if you will, were funny and endearing. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, and that’s what makes the story all the sadder. There was so much potential, so much life left to live.

I could go on for days on the subject of suicide, but shall refrain from doing so here. As with so many books of recent, I really do wish I had read this as a teenager – there are so many life lessons in here that I could have needed back then.

I could literally just open it up right now and start reading it all over again, and not many books leave me feeling like that.

It’s beautiful.

Just absolute perfection.

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