Monday, October 11, 2010

The lovely bones

So why didn't I love the Lovely Bones? I know I caused some controversy by stating such on the book of face, so I had better justify myself.

This book actually made me angry. I wanted to hurl it across the room as it continued, although I must admit most of my frustration is devoted towards the later parts of the book. So lets begin with the positive.

The idea of the Lovely Bones, a dissection of a family's grief from the perspective of the girl who has just been killed, is a powerful and an interesting one, and is initially well done. The unsentimental yet disturbing description of Suzie's death certainly draws one in, and the initial grief suffered by the family is certainly moving, and feels realistic.

But then... well then it gets a little bit silly. The plot, such as it is, meanders somewhat. There is a subplot based around the catching of Suzie's killer, which failed to grip me. The main issue I had was that the father used his magic dad sense to divine who the killer was (yes kids, its the creepy guy who lives down the end of the road!), and is so convinced of his correctness that he gets angry at the police for not believing him. I know, he is racked with grief and is thus not acting rationally, but it is extrordinarily frustrating that in his irrationality he is UTTERLY correct. If the police were to ignore due process and base their decisions on dadfu then they'd stop the murderer from killing many more. Its annoying- it seems like the point should be that he is acting irrationally and needs to let go, but its completely undercut by the father being correct in his absurdity.

The plot jumps in time quite frequently, and rarely sticks to characters long enough for you to get to know them- you get a feeling for the fathers grief, but little else about him as a person. Susie's mother gets a bit more time, but theres a sense of detachment even with the most well drawn characters, as the narration is all done by Suzie, who is only really interested in things that affect her. There are several characters who feel honestly pointless- Ruth and Ray Singh, respectively an arty girl who becomes obsessed with Suzie, and the only guy she ever kissed, barely have any point in the story, apart from a really disturbing end sequence I'll get to later. Ruana, Ray's mother, has a couple of sections about her, which feel even more useless. To be honest, even Susie's sister, Lindsey, isn't well drawn enough (she is apparently awesome at everything).

The book spends quite a bit of time with Mr Harvey, Susie's killer. Initially this makes a certain amount of sense, as there is a slight tension implying that he might be caught, although his motivations are tedious and obvious. Later on, however, he really becomes secondary to the narrative, and a final bit of 'tension' involving him and Lindsey feels unnecessary.

Of course, my main issue is with Susie, and the depiction of heaven. Heaven, is, apparently, an incredibly bland place where nothing much happens and everyone gets to come (the version of religion this book ascribes to is probably a kind of spiritualism at best), including, presumably, Mr Harvey, although thats not completely clear. Susie spends her time moping and watching her relatives, at some points willing them to die, and apparently feels all tingly every time someone thinks about her. Ruth is considered a hero for remembering all the dead, who, despite being in heaven, are apparently desperate to have the living wreck their lives by obsessing over those who have gone.

And theres the rub. Death is a horrible thing to deal with, especially in such a horrific manner as Susie's death, but the healthy thing to do is to move on. Thats not easy, and thats what (in my opinion) the book should be about. Remembrance, but not obsession. Instead Susie seems to egg on the characters into remembering her, in a manner I found most frustrating. Yes, towards the end there is an acknolwedgment that people will move on, but its simply not evident in the rest of the text.

I will end this rant by moving into spoiler territory, so please don't read any further if you've yet to read the book, and still have interest in doing so.

Towards the end of the book Susie manages to swap places with Ruth (a lesbian) so she can have sex with Ray Singh (the boy who kissed her), some 7 years after her death. Apparently Ray has failed to move on so much that he's willing to have sex with this weird possession, and its genuinely disturbing. Only post coitus does Susie attempt to contact her family, which is what one might hope she'd do. I suppose the idea is that she has never grown up, and this activity allows her to do so, but I found it a bit distressing to be honest, and feel like Susie's epiphany (if you can call it that) could have come in any number of different ways. As it is, this just feels a little nasty, to be honest.

Oh, and Mr Harvey? Killed by a magic icicle... Sigh

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