We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Sunday, 21 October 2012

#8 Book 7 - The Virgin Suicides

Virgin suicide
What was that she cried
No use in stayin'
On this holocaust ride
She gave me her cherry
She's my virgin suicide

Title: The Virgin Suicides

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Pages: 249

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Source: own

The Synopsis

In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters- beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys-commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. 

Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.

The Review

Like the boys who inhabited the same neighbourhood as the Lisbon sisters, I have long been obsessed with them. Every time I reread this novel, I feel like one of the narrators - reconstructing the story in my mind as I read. Trying to figure out how I could forget certain things. Reading this book is like rehashing a memory, because a spell has been cast on me and I too cannot forget those Lisbon girls, and I too am still looking for answers about why they did what they did. I look at the evidence like the boys did and glean information through their eyes and artifacts and try to theorise why it is that they saw  no other way out, but like the boys I seem to fall short, because like them I don't know what the girls were thinking. I don't know what the girls were feeling, and I certainly don't know what was happening in that house behind those closed doors.

All we know is what is related to us in interviews or personal memories, but the pieces of the puzzle will never come together to show the whole picture because there are large bits missing. I am of the opinion that their overbearing control freak of a mother Mrs Lisbon is to blame, she is distant and controlling and keeps them all on a tight leash, and she is so distant that we never learn her name. That has to say something, doesn't it?

The boys' story of the Lisbon girls starts on the day where Mary took her life. My story of the Lisbon girls starts in 2001 - introduced by a friend who I'll call A. A like me was one of those serious teens, you know we read serious books, we watched serious films and we had serious conversations. It is little wonder that she exposed me to The Virgin Suicides as directed by Sofia Coppola. I was immediately drawn in, and well it was also kind of cool how we had friends that fitted into the age categories as the Lisbon girls. A was Cecilia, I was Lux, L was Bonnie, D was Mary and in the absence of someone the age of Therese, we substituted her with R.

We felt so very cool, liking a film like this, but I think we were also drawn in by the romantic ideas brought about by the Lisbon girls' suicide - the 13 and 14 year old mind is still rather fanciful.

When I found out that it was a book, I hoped that the local library would have it, but alas small town libraries are hardly ever filled with the books you want. I had been keeping it on my radar and finally when I got to Rhodes University I found it in the library and I had to read it. I was blown away, and newly impressed by Sofia Coppola for staying so true to the story, especially with the dialogue. I became obsessed with the Lisbon girls in another way, and of course I had to own the book when I became a serial book shopper not so very long ago.

I have been thinking long and hard about how to right this review after my umpteenth reread. It is so difficult to decide what to say in it, because there is so much that I can say about the Virgin Suicides. Especially since this reread has been different for me. I cannot pinpoint the reason behind it right now, but something has changed. Perhaps it'll come to me soon, or perhaps I have to reread it soon to figure out what it is that has changed, but as with previous reads of this book I still have many unanswered questions.

Is it actually possible to understand the Lisbon girls? I don't think so, since it is all conjecture on the part of the neighbourhood boys. The only actual response from the girls is in Cecilia's diary. Also, as a reader you are merely a witness to the deterioration of their lives until they leave this world.

What led Cecilia and then the others to take their lives?

Why did no one intervene on the behalf of the girls who became prisoners in their own homes?

Many answers the reader will never know, because we are being told the story of the girls lives by those who have watched and obsessed over them for years. The girls remain silent, and form part of a memory that is the only proof that they were ever really there.

If I ever got to ask Jeffrey Eugenides I would ask Why did they do it? What was it that Cecilia could no longer bare? I just want to be able to understand. But I suppose the point is that you can  never understand and so you can never forget these girls that will be an enigma till the day that you die.

But now onto a more academic point of view. Jeffrey Eugenides said that if it were not for his surname, no one would have linked the narrator in the form of a plural to being part of a Greek chorus. Perhaps that is so, perhaps he had no intention of invoking such a thing. But what strikes me about The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex is that the books begin with enormous revelations. You know what the outcome will be before you really know what the story is or how it will be told. This can also be related to the Greek method, because at that stage of literature there were plays, and the plays often depicted epics or myths that were already popular, so you watch the play, but you know what the outcome is going to be before it starts.

Also, I noticed that Eugenides has a Greek grandmother in both Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, and Bursa is mentioned in both too. I hope that one day I'll be able to understand his writing a bit more, but that will require numerous rereads and hopefully getting to meet him in person.

Have you read The Virgin Suicides? Are you also obsessed with the Lisbon girls? Let me know what you thought.

1 comment:

  1. I love this book! I've read it numerous times but keep coming back to it because of the mystery of it all and the atmosphere. I liked Middlesex, but not as much as I liked Virgin Suicides.


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