An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|Some years ago my friend X recommended a book she’d just read. The book was widely discussed, and positive reviews had kept the book on the bestseller charts for over a year. I’d enjoyed several of the books X had lent me, so when she handed over her latest book I started reading it the following evening.
It was well written, with good character development and clear detailed description of the settings. The plot was horrific, and I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say it probably has some bearing on the way I feel about the book. It took me several days and nights to finish reading, and when I gave X back her book she asked me my thoughts on the story.
Since we’d only been in Thessaloniki a few months and I didn’t want to offend my new friend I said it was interesting. I was too much of a coward to tell her I hated a book that had won its author several awards, and sold in excess of one million copies.
The book was Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones”, which has been made into a film by Peter Jackson, the man responsible for bringing the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to life on celluloid. Jackson is receiving a lot of negative press for the way he’s handled the story, but I don’t believe any director could have successfully transferred “The Lovely Bones” to a feature film.
For anyone who hasn’t read the story it is set in the 1970s and narrated by Susie Salmon, a 14 year old girl who is raped, murdered and dismembered by a paedophile. After her brutal death, which is described in awful detail, she goes to Heaven. After dismembering his victim, Susie’s killer put her body parts into a safe, which he then dumps in a sinkhole. All that is ever found of Susie is her hat and her elbow.
Susie watches her family grieve, with each one coming to terms with her death in his/her own way. From her vantage point in Heaven Susie also follows her killer’s life, and is able to see his abusive and difficult childhood. She begins to feel sorry for him. Susie’s body is never found, and over the years her family grow older. I remember Susie’s sister got married, and named her first child after the sister she’d lost. Susie’s parents got back together after her dad suffered a heart attack – they’d split when her mother got involved with one of the policemen investigating Susie’s disappearance/murder.
And then there’s the scene at the end of the book.
When she died, Susie’s spirit briefly touched a girl called Ruth. In this scene Ruth is standing near the sinkhole which holds the safe containing Susie’s body. With her is Ray, a boy who had asked Susie out on a day just before she died. During her musings in Heaven she often mentions her sadness that she never made the date. Seeing Ray and Ruth near her body she is so overcome her spirit swops places with Ruth’s, and while she is in Ruth’s body she has sex with Ray. Afterwards she goes back to Heaven.
So why did I hate this book? In reflection I think there are several reasons, Susie’s horrific rape and murder at the hands of the paedophile being the main one. I hated reading about the way her family suffered and grieved for her – how dreadful to know your child is dead, but with only one piece of her body to prove she will never come back, never mind the nightmares any parent would experience wondering what their daughter went through and why she was dismembered. The book was set in the early ‘70s, so forensic science was not as evolved as it is today, and I was frustrated at how the very obvious forensic evidence was seemingly disregarded.
I also hated the sex scene between Susie and Ray, because I felt Susie in Heaven never aged or changed from the age she was when she died, while her family and friends all aged naturally. The idea of a 14 year old Susie having sex with a now 26/27 year old man made me cringe. I think perhaps Sebold wanted Susie to know sex could and should be a loving act between two people who care about and respect each other, rather than a violent, bloody act that ends in murder. As Sebold herself was victim to a very violent rape some years before “The Lovely Bones” was published perhaps it was cathartic for her?
The mere fact that the book got me thinking in this way means it had an effect on me, and the emotions it aroused made me think. And that is surely a commendation for any writer – she made an impression on me. But the fact remains that I didn’t like “The Lovely Bones”, and I would NEVER recommend the book to anyone. I don’t like the subject matter, and although I am sure anyone who lost someone they loved the way Susie’s family lost their daughter perhaps the idealistic, comfortable view of Heaven the book offers is some consolation. But the Old Testament Sarah – fire and brimstone, retribution etc – is upset Susie’s murderer never pays for his appalling crime, and quite honestly I found Susie a sad, lonely figure, which made me angry. She didn’t deserve her fate.
So there’s my confession; I hated “The Lovely Bones”. I won’t be going to see the film, so Mr Jackson won’t have my negative reviews about the way he treated what some have described as “a beautiful story”. Having put my neck on the line I have a question or two for you:
If you’ve read “The Lovely Bones” how did it make you feel?
Are there any other critically acclaimed books that you read and disliked? (Dan Brown, anyone? )