0114 | The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

Context: Finished this off in my mum’s jacuzzi.

REVIEW
Now that Middlesex has been removed from the 2008 edition of the 1001 list, Eugenides’ work is represented by this one novel alone.

There are going to be many who will argue for Middlesex to be reinstated if not alongside this but even to replace it. I won’t be one of them. Middlesex is a very good novel. This though is so good, you might not even realise it.

As I found out from Middlesex, Eugenides does a very good job of describing the average dysfunctional American family. He’s wittier than Franzen in doing so as well.

Virgin Suicides follows just such a family with it’s five daughters hell bent on, well, hell really. As the family self-destructs, a classmate narrator and his friends watches it all unfold seemingly from somewhere over the street although you never really find out who the narrator is or where they live.

In this anonymity lies the hint of Eugenides genius. Catch a glimpse of this in the book and you have opened the door a crack onto the reason why I rated this book as ‘excellent’ whereas I only gave Middlesex a ‘very good’ rating.

Most people commenting on this book will describe their reaction to the Lisbon family who form the focus of the narration. I was equally fascinated however by the voyeurist narrator and his classmates.

While the Lisbon family never really seem to act normally and even flaunt their wierdness, the narrator and his friends actually thinks they they themselves are normal. He thinks this even while they obsess about the girls and collect numbered “exhibits” of their lives and deaths including photos, possessions and even autopsy reports in suitcases dedicated to each girl.

And while you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just some perverse teenage crush, it is quite clear from the narration that this has been going on for decades and persists well into the middle age of each of them.

This obsessive behaviour strikes me as the theme that Eugenides is really questioning throughout the novel. It isn’t suicide and what drives teenagers to it that is the theme. It’s our fascination with the macabre, the different, the sinister and all that is wrong with those who live over the road. It’s a critique of a society where voilent police videos, neighbourhood gossip and invasive media are all acceptable.

I feel he is in particular critiquing US society but, by using a disembodied although involved narrator, any one of us could be narrating this. I’m sure this is intended.

And as the novel closes, the last line questions a society which, despite watching the drama unfold intimately, despite collecting souvenirs of the girls’ lives, was unable to know them intimately or prevent those lives from disintegrating.

That, for me, makes this a clever and important book.

FIRST LINE
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.

CLOSING LINE
It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house, with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.

RATING:
rubbish
poor
mediocre
okay
good
very good
excellent
superb

  • Jorie July 31, 2008, 6:40 pm

    When did they redo the 1001 list? Is there a copy of this?

    – Jorie

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi August 1, 2008, 11:54 am

    ah yes there is somewhere.

    if you google 1001 books 2008 you should find it.

    I’m working on a much improved version 2 of the spreadsheet which will be out in the next couple of months hence my reticence to post my own version of the list just yet.

    Check back in a couple of months to get your copy of v2 of the automated spreadsheet.

    Reply
  • Jorie August 1, 2008, 8:47 pm

    Thanks for posting this. . . Wow, I just bought the 2006 version of the book. By the way, I love your pages. Do you recommend any particular webhosts?

    Thanks,
    Jorie

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi August 1, 2008, 11:33 pm

    Thanks Jorie… I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. Thanks for the comment about the pages. Well, I use wordpress as a blog and host it on my own site which lives on space I purchase from Network Redux. That’s about it. I do mess around with html and other code too to tweak it to just how I want it….

    Reply
  • Kayleigh August 13, 2008, 2:59 pm

    They removed Middlesex? It’s my favourite book! Anyway, Virgin Suicides is also excellent, Eugenides is a superb writer.

    Reply
  • Jorie August 18, 2008, 4:34 pm

    I reviewed The Virgin Suicides on my blog. It can be found at http:joriesreads.wordpress.com.

    Reply
  • Jorie August 18, 2008, 4:40 pm

    Here’s the correct link – http://joriesreads.wordpress.com.

    Reply

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