Sunday, December 6

"The Lovely Bones" - Alice Sebold

" 'My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighbourhood. My mother likes his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertiliser.'

This is Susie Salmon, speaking from heaven - which looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets, counsellors to help newcomers adjust, and friends to room with. Everything Susie wants appear as soon as she thinks of it - except the one thing she wants most: to be back with the people she loved on earth.

Watching from her place in heaven, Susie sees her happy, suburban family devastated by her death, isolated even from one another as they each try to cope with their terrible loss alone. Over the years, her friends and siblings grow up, fall in love, do all the things she never had the chance to do herself. But life is not quite finished with Susie yet..."

REVIEW: I got to about halfway through this book when I realised something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it for a while. And then it hit me:


The Lovely Bones is sadly lacking in plot. Where had it even gone? Was it there to begin with?

To me, a plot has a clear Beginning, a Middle, and an End. In between the Beginning and the End, there is at least one cycle of 'Conflict' and then 'Resolution'. There's some kind of goal the characters are actively working towards. You know, the guy gets the girl. The tragedy is averted. The mystery is solved. That sort of thing.

Didn't happen in The Lovely Bones.

And what is a book without a plot? I guess you could call it an 'exploration' of a theme, or an observational 'study', or a collection of poems, or something along those lines. However, if you're going to craft a fictional work along those lines, it needs to be done brilliantly if it's going to work, otherwise the audience will virtually fall asleep whilst mid-read.

Like I did.

The first few chapters were interesting - I've never read a book where the narrator had died within the first few sentences!* - but later I realised that the emotional side of those chapters came less from the actual book, but more from imagining the pain that a murdered child would bring upon a family.

And then, it became a dreary, boring, highly unrealistic recount of people growing up, with the only added ingredient being that they were all dealing with grief and loss. Sort of like watching a generation of Sims growing up in The Sims 2 without having any interaction with the gameplay. I didn't feel for the characters, the story lacked depth, and most of all, none of it seemed real. The characters and their actions did not seem credible, even in the circumstances they were dealing with. Not a single character seemed 'right'. In a way, The Lovely Bones felt very slightly like a Jodi Picoult novel without the sheer, grippingly realistic characters and emotional punch.

Flicking through to the last few chapters, things only became more ridiculous. (Spoiler: highlight invisible text to read). After reading the scene where Susie possesses Ruth's body and then "makes love" to Ray "in the shower and in the bedroom and under the lights and fake glow-in-the-dark stars" - well, I kind of tossed the book down in sheer disbelief. Absolutely terrible. I mean, come on. Seriously?

Ultimately, The Lovely Bones wound up on a very, very short pile in my room: books that remain eternally unfinished because they were so incredibly unengaging that really, all things considered, I'd prefer to be watching paint dry.

RATING: I imagine voguelady will probably eat me alive for giving "one of [her] favourite books" such a vicious panning, but I cannot believe how much I disliked this book, despite its current popularity. 1 STAR

* No, The Book Thief doesn't count, since Death had never been alive and therefore had never died. See what I did there?

EDIT: OK, here we go, this is a first. An additional note for one of my reviews. How intriguing.

But really, people, what have I overlooked? Everywhere I look I find reviews that are nothing short of glowing. Plus, completely incorrect (in my mind) genre-categorising: people are calling it a "thriller" - why? It does not thrill. The pace does not keep smartly chugging along. Instead the pace seemed to get a bit lost in the pond where it's now become so stagnant that all the previously living creatures in that pond are now non-living thanks to the thick build-up of algae.

Anyway. Is this somehow another sign of my severe unsophisticatedness? My unappreciation for abstract art, unconventional writing, etc? Or am I just one of the few reviewers out there to not be swayed by both professional and public opinion and just tell it like it is?

Feel free to leave some thoughts in the comments for me.