The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides has been a long contemplated book for me. I saw the film years ago, when I was in my early teens and I never really got it. I mean, I understand the premise and all, I know it's a mystery and a detective novel and a coming of age all in one, but I never really joined in on the big cult "wow-ness" of this book. I think it's because at first it seemed (the story, as I hadn't read the book) like something second rate, made to shock people. 5 Sisters kill them selves for no reason better than "You've never been a teenage girl", well, how very "I don't like Mondays" of you...

However, for the past few years I have found myself adding the book to various online shopping baskets...and then not buying it, but there's no rule so important with adaptations than "It's probably not as good as the book!" So I took the plunge, and figured I was going to close the final page with a huge eye roll or a great sense of contemplation, but I'm still not so sure. I don't think I've ever had such a mixed reaction to a book before, usually because I tend to buy books I've read reviews of, or from authors I've read before, but with this one I feel so (excuse the lack of a better word here) ...meh. I don't feel particularly enlightened or thoughtful like I usually do upon finishing a novel, I do feel contemplative, thought over my thoughts rather than the story.

The book centres around the 5 Lisbon sisters, who we know from the start all end up killing themselves. We read from a group of unnamed men, who knew the girls when they were their age and have never been able to forget them, or figure out the mystery surrounding their deaths. The writing is like that of a court transcription, with the boys presenting exhibits, and interviews they have conducted over the years in trying to put together the mystery of the suicides.

“It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together. ” 

I don't think it's the author I have an issues with here - he keeps the story very well placed in it's detective-coming of age genre, and I do completely adore the setting -  I love the seventies, and the writing makes the time feel really authentic; rather it's the story. I have this little tick that has always irritated me; people trying to make themselves "relevant" by writing/creating these little esoteric pieces of work that they think are incredibly arty but in reality are just cheap rip-off's of once great work, for example, how many books have you read that claim to be the "modern" Catcher In The Rye? And focus on a boy who is alone and thinks a lot and reads Albert Camus and is therefore different and intelligent and oh so worthwhile? They seem to believe that this character, the placement of a Joy Division record, or a reference to Clockwork Orange (because gosh, you must be a big misunderstood smartie-pants if you empathise with droog's) means that they have written something great, but it takes so much more than that!

“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”

And we come to the crux of this review, here's my final thought; The Virgin Suicides is lacking, lacking in something that could have made it great? I'm not sure, but definitely in something that could have made it something thought provoking, rather than what I take it as; an easy read on a difficult subject with absolutely no depth. In this case the film was definitely better, and that's only because of Sofia Coppola's directing, and the wicked soundtrack. Sorry Lux lovers, I'm calling it.


  1. This book is on the list of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, and thus it is on my to-read list. I've been avoiding it for the very reason you described, it has been touted as a modern Catcher In The Rye by friends, which I didn't really care for. This review further confirms my suspicions. Think I'll move it down on the to-read list. Thanks for the heads up!

    1. I tried so hard to like it but it just didn't live up to it's hype whatsoever, let me know how you find it when you get to it!


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