Wednesday 15 April 2020

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember watching The Virgin Suicides years ago, and really enjoying the movie. So of course I wanted to read the book, and when I found a copy during our thrift store adventures last year, I picked it up.

The Lisbon sisters--Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16) & Therese (17)--are the kind of teenage girls all the boys who live near them or go to the same school are obsessed with. They all dream about being part of their lives, and watch them from afar.

But these girls are different and soon become surrounded by death. After the youngest sister commits suicide, the whole family begins to fall into a messy and dark void...

Wow. This is quite a powerful story.

While the book focuses on the five sisters everyone is so entranced with, the narrator is one of their many admirers. A boy whose life is deeply touched by these five girls. Even after he becomes a man, he's still haunted by what happened to them and is trying to get answers.

This writing style gives us the distance to watch the Lisbon Sisters in the same peeping Tom way these boys do. It also keeps the mystery growing throughout the book, and deals with something as dark as suicide in a way that mamages to romanticise the key figures.

One of the reasons (there are quite a few) why I enjoyed this so much is because of how the observer keeps the mystery at the heart of the story alive, all the way through. Although I knew what was going to happen, because it's no secret from the very beginning, I still couldn't stop reading. I was hooked and followed everything through until the end.

This is a great book, but it deals with some very heavy issues. There's clearly abuse going on inside the Lisbon house, in the form of a matriarch willing to keep her daughters so pure and away from sin, that she ends up making them prisoners inside their own home and minds. Controlling her daughters to the point of realising that their only escape is death.

And that makes me very, very sad. And angry.

The boys in their suburb look at these intriguing girls as ethereal creatures of love, who made them yearn. But at the end of the day, they wanted to do the same thing their parents did. In their own way, everyone was so mystified by these girls that they wanted to cage them. It says a lot about girls and what the world likes to do to them. Put enough restrictions, make them feel like exploring their sexuality is shameful, and try to smother their intelligence.

Teenage girls are so often treated like the Lisbon Sisters: like puzzles that need to be solved. When all they need is to be allowed to grow, expand and discover the world in their own way. And that's what happens to these poor girls. They're treated like objects, rather than people. And that, is just one of the many tragedies. That the only way for them to break free is via death, is truly awful.

The underlying messages in this book really spoke to me. That they were written by a man, featuring a puzzled male narrator, and still managed to get all of this through, is even more amazing.

I'm so glad I finally read this!

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