Updated on August 5, 2015
35. ‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides
Bloody hell, this is a good book. From the outset you feel as though you are in the hands of a skilled craftsman. So much is summed up by the incredible 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.” Much like ‘Middlesex‘, also by Eugenides, the story starts with a revelation about the end. We already know where it’s going, but that doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the book.
The narrative perspective of the book is famously unusual. It is told from the multiple first person points of view of the boys are are obsessed with the five Lisbon sisters, the boys who watch from windows and doorways and occasionally make fleeting contact with the objects of their affections. The reader becomes part of their clique, and through them and their museum of ‘exhibits’ we learn about what happened to the strange girls. But we are also necessarily kept on the outside – it’s as difficult for us to fathom what the girls are thinking as it is for the boys who watch them.
There’s an irresistible feeling of mysticism surrounding the sisters, who get up to all sorts of strange things in their closed-off house across the street, but when they are at last allowed out to socialise with their observers they seem surprisingly normal. They are friendly and chatty, and the reader can’t help but feel that at least some of the eeriness has been invented in the minds of the narrators. Of course, ultimately there is a mystery, one that remains unsolved. It isn’t spoiling anything to say that all five sisters attempt to commit suicide (it’s right there in the title, after all), but the ways in which they do this – and how they seem as they go to their deaths – is the real fascination here.
Once again Eugenides, an absolute master of storytelling, proves that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters.
“…the world was pure emotion, flung back and forth among its creatures.”
If you liked my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?