Year Published : 1993
Genre/Tags : General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Modern Classic
Mood : Nostaglic, Beautiful, Sad, Haunting, Creepy, Just a lot.
Edition : Kindle eBook
# of Pages : 250 Pages (Paperback)
The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.
I read this book three months ago. I thought I’d written a review of it on Goodreads but can’t find anything so I’ll just write it now. If you notice any errors in my review please feel free to point them out as I may have forgotten or mistook some details, unlikely though since this will go down as one of my favorite books of all time.
First, the writing style. I’ve read Middlesex, also by Jeffrey Eugenides, and let me just say I had never highlighted so many passages in a book. I was reading it on a Kindle DX years ago and received some warning that I had already highlighted 20% or more of the book and couldn’t highlight anymore. The writing was so beautiful, I wanted to save so much of it for pondering in the future. The Virgin Suicides is somehow even more poetic. Where Middlesex was an eventful family saga, this one is a sort of contemplative, dreamy recollection of events that haunt the nameless protagonist.
The nameless protagonist, the voice of this book, is (seemingly) a boy who grew up in a nostalgic little town where a mysterious family lived. The family had five beautiful daughters who became the obsession of their classmates and neighbors alike. One day, one of the sisters commits suicide. Slowly, the sisters strong presence in their school and community begins to fade. They retreat into their house and refuse to leave (or aren’t being allowed to leave?) The various boys in town- a sort of group, merged by their worship of the girls- decide to try and save them.
The story is told in a way that is simultaneously reminiscent and fresh. The narrater is in the moment and puts the reader in the moment- and then scales back, making it clear that the present time is many decades after. That it’s too late to change things and the residents of this town are still haunted by an eventual, horrible chain of events yet to be revealed.
I had so many feelings reading this. The voice is almost like a stalker and very masculine yet childish. His vision of the girls is romanticized, almost erotic, and at times vapidly obsessed with the exterior beauty of the girls. And yet the feverish attention to detail breathes life into so many tiny moments and scenic images combined to make me feel so deeply for the setting, the girls, and the naive-seeming boys who were deeply traumatized by “the event”, when it happens.
I watched the film before reading this book, something that is usually inadvisable. I can confirm that it was wonderful to experience this story as such, because the film adaptation is equally wonderful. It has a great soundtrack by one of my favorite bands, a French group called Air. The atmospheric music they created for this film is haunting and I could hear it playing somewhere in my mind while reading. Even though I haven’t heard the soundtrack in years, the memories came spilling back with eerie clarity while reading this prose. It really is the perfect soundtrack for this story at large.
While I wouldn’t classify this as a suspense novel, it kind of is in a roundabout way. Because I knew a certain thing that was going to happen and when it was going to happen (due to watching the movie) I noticed the foreboding in the book leading up to it. I could feel that moment slowly edging closer, and a sort of twisting feeling in my stomach waiting for it. This book made a straight connection to my emotions on a physical level.
My only complaint is more a personal one. Because this book is centered on artistic symbolism and dream-like writing that is open to interpretation, it doesn’t make really solid statements about certain things that happen and this became frustrating. Long story short, there are two characters who I felt were responsible for the fate of the girls and we never hear it said in a straight and condemning way. And none of the characters seem to understand either, and no responsibility taken for all the shared suffering.
But overall, this is one of my favorite books of all time and I am committed to reading more of Jeffrey Eugenides books.
Overall Rating – 10/10
Why You Should Read It – A profound think piece on regret. Lyrical, beautiful writing that is some of the best I’ve read. Short but effective. Also has a great film adaptation and a soundtrack that all combine nicely. in forming a whole experience.
Critique – Technically, the obsession that the narrater speaks of seems based on aesthetic beauty. I think not everyone will be able to take the novel seriously for that reason, or even dislike the narrative voice.The Virgin Suicides (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition): A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) (Amazon Link)
Have you read this book or are interested in reading it? Please feel free to share your thoughts, I read and appreciate all your likes and comments. Thanks so much for reading my review!