The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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Rating 8.8/10
An unflinching and hard-hitting look look at murder and the afterlife.

The Lovely Bones was a very well-known book even before Peter Jackson adapted it for the silver screen in 2010. But its origins were modest, the book's publisher, Little, Brown and Company, would have been happy had it sold 20,000 copies. But thanks to a clever marketing campaign and the power of word-of-mouth recommendations it made the New York Time best-seller list, on which it remained for over a year.

What immediately stands out about the book is its unflinching and dark premise, not unknown in books aimed at teens but uncommon. The event that shapes the book is covered immediately, so the following is not a spoiler:

Susie Salmon was fourteen when she was murdered on December 6, 1973. Her murderer was a man from her neighbourhood. From her place in heaven she watches the effect her murder has had on her suburban family as they try to cope with their grief. Over the course of these years both the reader and Susie get to watch her friends and siblings grow up, fall in love, do all the things she never had the chance to do herself.

The opening chapters are hard-hitting, holding no punches and dealing with events almost dispassionately. And this is a great strength, the author makes no attempt to shout about awful what has happened is, how evil the perpetrator. It is a powerful book, thought-provoking and it evokes every parent's worst nightmare.

The reading is an emotional ride, capable of bringing the reader to tears, anger, hope and love. We all want to believe that bad things do not happen to good people but secretly know that this is not always the case. And The Lovely Bones further hammers this upsetting message home. When I finished read Cormac McCarthy's The Road I had to go into my children's bedroom and give them a kiss while they slept and I felt the same way after reading The Lovely Bones - it's a book that will leave you wanting to hold your children close.

The book is not without its faults though, and some believe it to be overly sentimental despite its extremely dark theme. I personally found that the first half of the book excellent - involving, upsetting, leaving me hoping for a lessening of the family's grief. But I found the latter half suffered from a lack of focus and, yes, I felt it became overly sentimental at times, particularly as it neared its end. But all-in-all it was a very good book, one that I am glad I read. Those are my own thoughts but I would also like to share with you the thoughts offered by other reviewers. First the positive:

"I must admit that strangers starred at me as tears flowed while I read the book on the train on my way home."

"To take two subjects so potentially dark and complex - violent murder and the afterlife - and turn them into a narrative of such richness and emotional depth without sinking once into the macabre or depressive is an achievement of some magnitude."

"The novel works because it is ultimately based on a deep understanding of human behaviour. It captures well the range of feelings suffered by those bereaved and reflects them in Susie's lingering relationship with her family. With an empathy that never strays into the saccharine."

But not every reader had the same experience:

"The Lovely Bones is so keen in the end to comfort us and make safe its world that, however well-meaning, it avoids its own ramifications," commented The Guardian's Ali Smith.

"Ultimately it seems like a slick, overpoweringly saccharine and unfeeling exercise in sentiment and whimsy," said Philip Hensher of The Observer.

My closing advice would be to pick up a copy of the book (or audio-book) yourself and make up your own mind, it is definitely a book worth reading.

--

The film adaptation of The Lovely Bones starring Mark Wahlberg as Jack Salmon, Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, Rachel Weisz as Abigail Salmon, Saoirse Ronan as Susie, Susan Sarandon as Susie's grandmother, Lynn and Rose McIver as Lindsey Salmon, opened to a limited release in December, 2009. It received international and wide release in January, 2010. It met with mixed reviews, but nonetheless garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Stanley Tucci).

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