4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 December 2012
"The Virgin Suicides" has been my favourite novel since I was fifteen (ten long years ago now) and I enjoy it as much now as I did then. It is a beautifully sad tale that follows the Lisbon sisters, living in Grosse Pointe Michigan, watched from afar by their besotted adolescent boy neighbours who document their every move.
The novel opens with the attempted suicide of the youngest sister, Cecilia, who is found "like a Stoic" with bleeding wrists in the family bathtub. From this dramatic beginning, the reader is guided through the lives of the Lisbons (though from an outside perspective) as the girls are increasingly stifled by their over-protective parents in the face of a family tragedy that ultimately leads to the suicide of all five girls.
The narration style is unique as the story is told from the perspective of the Lisbon's neighbours, detailing their encounters with the mysterious creatures that they cannot fathom. We understand the girls only as the boys do - from caught glances and overheard words. They presume so much and know so little about these ethereal sisters that they seem to adore yet hardly know.
Eugenides writing is truly masterful; he manages to create a hazy atmosphere of teenage obsession with witty, albeit dark, humour. The prose is subtle yet mysterious, reflecting the nature of the novel and of the girls themselves. The language Eugenides employs sets a tone of sadness and fated tragedy as though the course events was imposible to avert.
The plot meanders through various experiences of the sisters that are examined minutely by their adolescent admirers; experiences that tell them so little of the reasons behind their eventual tragic deaths. The subtlety that Eugenides writes with is so powerful - with little dialogue, so much is said and implied.
The ambiguity is so reflective of life itself and that tragedies such as these rarely have a definitive cause. Rather it is a culmination of events, people, thoughts and feelings that lead to such a sad act. Eugenides allows the reader their own opinion of why the girls chose such an end rather than tell you how to feel; he resists wrapping up the reasons and allows contemplation, adding to the philosophical and thoughtful nature throughout the novel.
All I can say is that this is so beautifully written with poignant, atmospheric prose and original narration style.
This will forever be my favourite novel.
57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2006
I wanted to love this book. I wanted to fall head over heels in love with it. I thought I would aswell. Books about teenagers are my thing, books about suburbia are my thing, books about suicide are my thing. This should have been my thing, but it wasn't.
This is the story about the Lisbon girls, five sisters who all killed themselves, told by the neighbourhood boys who were, and still are, infatuated with them. It is written beautifully and from the opening few pages I thought this was going to be the perfect book but I soon became disappointed.
For me there was no plot, it was just an account of people's responses to the suicides. I struggled to get a grip of the characters, there were too many names mentioned without personalities attached - this wasn't too much of a problem but my big problem came when I realised I only felt like I knew two of the five Lisbon sisters. If I felt like I knew them more then perhaps I would have cared about the book.
I recognised the ending was good but it could have been better. I got a sense of knowing what the author was trying to say but feeling he hadn't quite managed to say it.
After looking at the other reviews I realise I am in the minority - proving everyone has a different opinion. All I can guess is that I just didn't get it.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2002
I saw the film and wanted to read the book to understand the concept more. I wasn't disappointed and was sucked in by the world the boys inhabit and the intensity of their feelings. The girls are indeed mystical creatures and fascinated me from beginning to end. This is a must for all who have seen the film and should not be missed!!!!!
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Jeffrey Eugenides' first novel The Virgin Suicides is an almost surreal, haunting, wholly unforgettable work of literary art. It has an almost unmatched depth and resonance that penetrates deeply into the ephemeral layers of life and humanity. In company with the vaguely revealed narrator and his former childhood friends, the reader becomes a peeping tom spying on the five young ladies next door and developing an intense need to understand their innermost thoughts and feelings and to come to know what terrible forces lurking inside that increasingly deteriorating house could possibly lead each of them to take their own lives. There's no real mystery to this story, as the reader is told from the very first page that the five girls will all commit suicide; the heart of the novel lies in the search for answers that can never truly be forthcoming.
The Lisbon girls - Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Theresa (17) haunt every page of this novel; even as one reads about their lives during the tumultuous year in which all would commit suicide, one sees only ephemeral visions of what they could have been without any penetrating snapshots of their engaging in life in a literal sense. Cecilia, the youngest, is the first to go. Three weeks after slitting her wrists in an unsuccessful attempt to die, she leaves a party thrown for her own benefit and hurls herself from an upstairs window onto a picket fence. The neighborhood boys are there when it happens and thus feel an intense link to the lovely girls next door who die without ever really having lived. We hear their private conversations and speculations about the girls and witness their attempts to both penetrate the deadly gloom that soon wraps the house in a death shroud as well as to somehow save the girls from a fate seemingly forced upon them by destiny. While certain adolescent issues of a sexual nature meander through their thoughts, the image they cast of the girls is one of purity of a sort. Even Lux, the one sister who is far from virginal, comes across as some type of mystical being whose most sordid of acts seems less than unclean.
All we learn about the tragic sisters comes from our narrator and his friends, boys whose fascination and surreal love for the girls never loses its hold on them in later adulthood. The images conveyed about the mysterious interior of the house and the complete and utter breakdown of the entire, tragic Lisbon family is filtered through their eyes. The Virgin Suicides really is a type of ghost story and as such can only be analyzed and pondered over without being "solved." Eugenides does seem to wander off into tangents on a couple of occasions, but by and large he builds this story up beautifully to its previously stated yet still tragically shocking ending. The novel gets under your skin and penetrates your very heart, leaving a very real emotional imprint on the reader's mind and soul. This is an exquisitely written masterpiece of a novel, lyrically gripping in its style and mesmerizing in its emotional impact.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
As I progressed through my reading of this novel, I struggled to understand why I could not put it down despite feeling that the characters were too distant. On reflection, I realise that that was the author's intention. The book works through an odd narrative device. At the beginning the use of 'we' suggests a first person narration, but it gradually becomes clear that this is no ordinary viewpoint. Eugenides cultivates an 'us and them' narrative which emphasises the distance of the five sisters from the rest of the neighbourhood. Moreover, the boys who lust after them detach themselves from the 'us' to join the 'them', only to return to the fold when they come away frustrated. The story consequently possesses an unreal, dreamy quality. If there is one disappointment, it would be the rather obvious, simplistic moral about how one would live if only people would allow one to. A clever and highly individual novel, but perhaps with slightly too much cleverness and not quite enough tenderness.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2004
Can't tell you how much i loved this book.beautiful and lyrical, it's a love song to life, as much as it is a novel about growing pains. Eugenides beautifully captures that "otherness" that we often feel in life, without beating it to death, and the hot,hazy images he creates stay with you long after the book is finished. An amazing debut novel by a writer who deserves to be recognised more than he is. He followed this by the equally great "Middlesex".
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2007
This is a really fantastic book, beautifully observed and and elegantly written. It tells the story of 5 teenage sisters who all commit suicide, one after the other.
The book is told from the perspective of the boys who fantasise about them. Although their voices merge, it is the insight into those teenage boys which is the most real and striking - their obsessive fascination and cataloguing, their curiosity about the girls and everything about them, at an age when most actual physical boy-girl contact was awkward fumbling and sweaty hand-holding.
The description of the decay of the family home as the family slowly sinks into despair is equally convincing.
You are totally swept up into Eugenides world, through his evocative descriptions of dust, smells, and tiny details of observation.
Coppola's film is good, but not as good as the book, because in the end the film is about the Lisbon sisters, who remain ultimately enigmatic in the book, whereas the book is about the boys who observe them.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2000
A worryingly-touching novel depicting the struggles of five young girls attempting to grow in the most restrictive of capacities. The story of the suicides is told through the inquisitive eyes of one of the girls many besotted victims. Eugenides' image of obsession and yearning is the feature point of his novel and its jigsaw-like narration allows it to retain a wonderful sense of ambiguity. Eugenides major triumph is his ability to shock. In a novel which reveals its conclusion within the first two lines, it is amazing how it is able to create a false sense of hope from the reader. 'The Virgin Suicides' is beautifully eloquent and Eugenides' vivid imagery makes it a very engaging read. This skill is evident in his superb ability to produce a sense of awkwardness that almost makes the reader feel bad for prying. Even though Eugenides' is dealing with a difficult subject like suicide he still creates a dark and humourous account which actually lightens with every read. 'The Virgin Suicides' by Jeffrey Eugenides, which has now been adapted by Sofia Coppola to a feature-length film is coincidentally his first novel as is Sofia Coppola's directorial debut. The film takes a more light-hearted view of the situation whereas the book delivers the story with a more morbid and frightening truth. There are parts however where the novel loses its gripping edge. But it Eugenides is quick to pull it back on track and into the realms of surrealism. 'The Virgin Suicides' is a remarkable novel and Eugenides' melancholic tone throughout makes it so powerful and evocative.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2000
I read this book around a year ago. I hadn't ever heared of it before I bought it. I didn't really expect much, it was just a book I picked up to read on my holiday. It turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. Jeffery Eugenides manages to juggle very different elements in the book and he fits them together perfectly. The film is also very good.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Set sometime in the early 1970's in a Michigan suburb, this is the disturbing story of five sisters who all commit suicide over a year. Told from the point of view of a group of neighbourhood boys, now men, who were infatuated by the girls, it is partly a recreation of events and partly an attempt to explain why the Lisbon sisters are still so important to those whose life they shaped.
The five sisters are Therese, 17, Mary 16, Bonnie, 15, Lux, 14 and Cecilia, 13. Their father, Mr Lisbon, is a maths teacher at the school that both the boys telling the story and the girls themselves, attend at the beginning of the book. Their mother is a librarian, although there is no mention of her life outside the home and she is seen as a strict woman who attempts to control her daughter's behaviour - although only doing what she feels is right to protect them. Meanwhile, the boys watch and wait and try to learn about the sisters, collecting various objects associated with the girls (mentioned as `exhibits' in the storyline) such as photographs or items of clothing. The whole sense of the novel is oppressive; the girls are kept on a tight rein and outside their door are the neighbourhood boys, keeping a watch on them.
This is a novel I have long meant to read and I am glad that it matched my expectations. The writing is simple, yet expressive. Although you know what is going to happen, the story unfolds almost gently. Expected and yet shocking. There is never a real sense that the grown boys expect to fathom what happened, but it is almost like looking back in time and seeing a photograph develop, as the characters are breathed into life. A beautiful novel and one I really enjoyed.