This disturbing and compelling novel was a surprise success when it was published in 2002—generally well reviewed and climbing and sticking to the best seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic. It is not an easy read, nor an easy listen, and was probably never intended as such: it deals with the rape and murder of a teenaged girl, Susie Salmon, in a small town in the United States, and records the consequences of the girl's death for her mother and father and siblings, and its effects on the wider community.
Susie gives the account from heaven, where she witnesses everything, interacts at arm's length with those left behind—including her killer—and, in almost the final scene, swaps corporeality with her best friend so that she can make love to the boy who, years before, had had a crush on her and was the first and last boy she kissed.
Susie remains a child as her brother and sister grow up, slowly and inevitably pushing her to the back of their minds as they get on with their lives on earth. In the aftermath of the trauma, Susie's mother and father separate, her father unwilling and unable to put her from his mind, gradually convinced of and obsessed by his belief in the guilt of their neighbour Mr Harvey—stereotypical child molester and child murderer, who gets away with his revolting crime and goes on to abuse and murder again as Susie observes from heaven.
Mr Harvey's death in the closing pages, felled by an icicle, has dramatic irony, but overall Sebold's style is unpretentious and unexceptional, the tone unvaried and the mood unrelenting. The novel, none the less, lingers in the mind and haunts the reader for days. The Lovely Bones is not literary fiction but neither is it pulp fiction - something half way, perhaps - and succeeds through its central premiss of a knowingness and an existence in an omniscient nontheistic heaven for those who have passed on. The novel's psychology and philosophy are undemanding and unchallenging, so perhaps it is The Lovely Bones' reassuring answers which have led to its undoubted success as a novel and will ensure its success as a feature film.
Presenting the unabridged text is exactly right because the passing of the years is signified in the slow accumulation of the chapters. Alyssa Bresnahan's reading is masterful—she is resonant and moving and conveys a quiet, brooding and overwhelming atmosphere of grief.
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© 2010 AudioBooksReview