Book Reviews: The Virgin Suicides

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides
★★★☆

The Lisbon family is made up of five teenage daughters, a mild-mannered father and an extremely conservative mother. When the youngest daughter, Cecilia, commits suicide at the beginning of the novel, the family is thrown into a painful year of grieving. Their quiet life in a
Detroit suburb becomes claustrophobic as they slowly retreat within themselves.

We watch their story unfold from the outside view of the neighborhood boys and because of this we never truly understand all that the girls go through. The reader is left wanting more; more information, more interaction with the Lisbons, just more. I think that Eugenides intended this, because he wrote the book from the point-of-view of outsiders who were themselves, left wanting more. That is a double-edged sword though, because while the novel is strangely fascinating, it also keeps the reader at a distance. We hear about events that have already happened and we receive little explanation for them. It’s hard to become too involved, but it’s also a tribute to Eugenide’s skill as a writer that he can give the reader so little and yet hold their attention.

It’s a beautifully written debut novel and I’m glad I read it, though I might have held him to a higher standard with this novel, because I knew what he was capable of. In the writing I recognize the style that I loved so well in his second book, Middlesex. This book’s somber tone failed to capture my love in the same way his later novel did.

15 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I liked this book a lot, but Middlesex even more.

Vaishnavi said...

This book sounds like something I enjoy...I love to read books from a peripheral point of view. I see that you are reading The Ruby in the Smoke. I loved the Sally Lockhart series as a kid!

BookQuoter said...

I like your insightful observation, that the author kept his readers at a distance, and yet, it might be for that reason that I like this book so much. Maybe it also because the setting is so familiar to me (almost my neighborhood).

Jeanne said...

Ugh. I felt all hazy and distanced from reading Middlesex in the winter; this one might send me over the edge.

Avid Reader said...

Diane - I did too. I would definitely recommend that at a starting spot with his work.

Vaishnavi - The Ruby in the Smoke is really fun! I'd never heard of the series until recently.

BookQuoter - The neighborhood thing might allow you to connect a bit more, which is what I needed.

Jeanne - Definitely don't read it in the winter. It's not an upper.

Teacher/Learner said...

The movie was very moody but well done. I didn't know this author wrote Middlesex, too. That's a challenge book for me this year but this sounds interesting, too, even if it's a downer.

Jenners said...

I read this first and almost didn't read "Middlesex" because I felt so unsatisfied with this book. To me, it felt like a wildly different author. But now I see that it makes a difference because in Middlesex you are "inside" and you are "outside" -- way to far outside -- in Virgin Suicides. thanks for helping me realize why I didn't like this books so much.

lydia said...

Yes, I also enjoyed Middlesex more than The Virgin Suicides. I read VS first, though, and was pleasantly surprised when I got to Middlesex. I found myself far more wrapped up in it.

Gavin said...

I enjoyed Middlesex and have added this one to my to-read list.

Bybee said...

I was so in unlove with this book that I shied off reading Middlesex for years. Glad I finally did, though. I like it much better. VS feels as if it's narrated from the wrong point-of-view.

bookmagic said...

This is a book I wanted to read but saw the movie. i usually don't like to read the book after the movie. But I might pick up Middlesex

nomadreader (Carrie) said...

I read this one about ten years ago and remember really liking it. I still haven't read Middlesex (I know), and I actually forgot it was the same author. I'll have to make time for Middlesex this year!

Avid Reader said...

In some ways I liked the movie a bit more, because seeing the girls gave the illusion of knowing them intimately. It is funny how you can love and dislike books by the same author.

Charley said...

I liked The Virgin Suicides, but could not get into Middlesex, despite multiple attempts. It's still on my shelf, waiting for the right time.

Avid Reader said...

Charley - Sometimes books just don't click. It's funny how that works.