Death usually marks the end of a work of fiction; but Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones begins with death – the death of the protagonist, no less. Right at the beginning of the book, Susie Salmon introduces herself, and tells us that she’s been killed and is now in heaven. The novel, then, is a look at how Susie’s family copes with her death and how she watches over them, hoping that her killer gets caught. Sebold gives us a detailed description of the after-world, creating specific rules around what heaven means according to her. Sebold’s interpretation of heaven is an interesting one – a place where dead people can create a reality of things they really love. If what you love intersects with what someone else loves, you’ll meet that person in heaven.
Although Susie has found herself in heaven, her attachment to her family and her murder means that it will be difficult for her family to move on in the wake of her death too. In spite of the fact that Susie knows this, she hopes that her killer will be recognized and be given his comeuppance. Susie cannot remove herself from her life on Earth, as she lives with the people she is involved in – her family, her first crush, a girl she brushed accidentally while she was leaving Earth, and of course her murderer. There is nothing Susie can do except be a passive observer. Her unique involvement in the story allows the novel to be from the point of view of a first person narrator, as well as third person omniscient narrator.
The novel sucks you right from the beginning, with the heart-rendering descriptions of a family trying to cope with the death of a loved one, as well as the dead person’s observations of a life she’s not a part of anymore. The incidents are at once touching and comic – very apt of life itself. Sebold’s tone is quite artful, and she is successful in creating a family that we are bound to feel for. The characters are well drawn out and rarely do we find any shallowness in her portrayals. There are many characters, but Sebold gives almost all of them equal importance. Although a little lengthy, the book is quite a grasping read. I might want to nitpick about the last two chapters, which left me very dissatisfied with the close of the story – it almost felt as if Sebold had no idea what to do with it, and decided to finish it off in a hurry. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the book is not worth it. More than likely, you’ve not read a book with this premise, so I’d recommend you give it a shot.
I am really curious about the Peter Jackson film-version of the book to be out soon. I usually don’t recommend books be changed for films, but in this case, I wouldn’t mind if he tweaked the end for the movie audiences.