I first experienced The Virgin Suicides upon its initial release, back in 1993, when I was seven years old and definitely much too young for it. I remember reading the opening paragraph, realizing that the book was about people dying, and promptly put it down. My Little Ponies were more my thing back then, but I’m pleased to report that my second attempt at the book was much more successful.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: I absolutely adore this novel. The language is beautiful, the story is heartbreaking but brilliantly told, the characters are superb. Honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
‘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.’
And so it begins. How could you not want to read on after that opening? I think one of the most fascinating things about The Virgin Suicides is the fact that the story begins with the revelation that the Lisbon daughters are all dead. Normally I find it difficult to bond with a character I know is going to die, but that was definitely not the case with this story. I almost cared more about them because I knew what was going to happen, but that owes entirely to Eugenides’ great characterization.
We’re introduced to the five sisters close to the beginning of the novel, when they hold their first - and last - party with the neighborhood boys. It can get confusing when so many similar characters are brought into a story at one time, but Eugenides differentiates between each of the girls, giving them their own individual quirks.
Lux Lisbon is the main focus of the novel; she definitely has the most distinctive personality. She’s naughty and interested in boys, and when her parents try to ban her from leaving the house, she rebels by having sex on the roof with strangers.
The Virgin Suicides is a relatively short, novel but Eugenides’ use of words is fantastic and he introduces us to so many characters and situations without anything ever feeling forced. The writer’s choice of words is brilliant - myriad tiny observations about the sisters make the prose shine.
‘Parkie Denton remembers Mary’s studied movements, her poise. “She led,” he said. “She had a Kleenex balled in one hand.” During the dance, she made polite conversation, the kind beautiful young women make with dukes during waltzes in old movies. She held herself very straight, like Audrey Hepburn, whom all women idolize and men never think about.’
The only bad thing about the novel is that the ending feels a little sudden. By the time the story drew to a close, I was so immersed that I wanted to hear so much more about what happened after the final suicide. But then again, isn’t it always best to leave the audience wanting more?
Don't miss this gem