The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides has quickly snuck its way into my fluctuating list of favoured novels. However, I will use that awful overused phrase and admit that yes, this book is a bit like Marmite. Although I have heard that a lot more people love it than hate it.
The title of this novel is not an implicit or clever take on the storyline – it literally is about the suicide of ‘virgins’, in the lightest sense possible. So as I’m sure you have already guessed, there are some unavoidable and pretty gruesome scenes of self-inflicted death. At this point you may be wondering why on this earth I love this book. Well, I digress.
The novel is written mostly from the perspective of five boys, who, in the usual pubescent manner, become infatuated with five sisters; the Lisbon sisters. However, these five girls are something extraordinary. Brought up by a devout Christian parents and with the death of one sister rooted in their hearts, the boys are surprised to find that the girls seem pretty normal. But there is more mystery and corruption to the sisters than one could ever imagine. The novel allows you to follow the boys and their piecing together of the Lisbon puzzle with each peculiar event.
Now this may sound rather sadistic, but Tom and Jerry humour is the best way that I can think to describe the way in which the more grisly scenes are written. Although quite harrowing, it’s hard to imagine anything but ketchup replacing blood when you read a line such as, ‘we heard the wet sound of her body falling’.
The naïve way in which the boys’ characters are presented reminds me of a toned down ‘Inbetweeners’. They constantly compete against each other in courage and experience, trying to be the bigger man of the bunch and worthy of a Lisbon sister. However, it’s not just the boy’s perspective that the girls are seen from. Eugenides sets the entire novel in one small town, and mostly in one street. Throughout, we meet other characters that live on the street, who all have witnessed strange happenings when observing the girls. In doing this, the writer creates a cosy little microcosm of the girls’ spectators, almost making you feel like another one of the nosey onlookers.
Eugenides often interchanges between dry humour and traumatic events, and surprisingly, gets away with it. It gives the book character and realism – after all, not everything in life is constantly depressing, nor constantly cheerful.
Do not be fooled though. This novel is certainly not for the faint hearted. The storyline is horrifically sad, and I do not want to make it sound as though the book takes the subject of suicide lightly. But what it does do is provoke thought and makes you want to grasp life with both hands, a whole heart and an open mind. This, I will always see as a bonus.
If you’re like me, a fan of unusual metaphors, personification and similes, you will really appreciate the literary techniques of Jeffery Eugenides. He really is quite a clever writer and I’m eager to read more of his work.
Neither the less, if you are a little bit less of a nerd than that, but still like witty and stirring novels, I am confident that you would enjoy this book; provided that you aren’t too squeamish and don’t mind Tom beating up Jerry.