Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: The Lovely Bones

One of my delights is to peruse secondhand bookshops, and the book sections of charity shops. You never know what you're going to find when you go in, and you get to see what people are reading and discarding. Sometimes, there are books that you see in droves, and then you hear the title in another context.

Recently, then, I noticed that the film (movie) version of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was being released, so I bought the book to read it and see what it was all about. Hopefully there won't be any spoilers in this review, but be careful in case you want to read the book or watch the film!

The novel is narrated by Susie Salmon. In the second sentence of the book we're told that she was murdered as she walked home from school by a neighbour. The book is Susie's recollections of her life up to that point, as well as her observations of her family's reaction to the death, and how they respond over the next ten years or so.

It could be subtitled 'A Grief Observed' to borrow from CS Lewis, as we see the ways in which her mother and father, brother and sister, grandmother, school friends, neighbours and murderer live in the aftermath of the murder. The pictures of grief and variety of ways of coping with bereavement are tenderly drawn, from plotting revenge, investigating the murder, blanking everyone out, rebellion, adultery, the bottle, and many others are included by the characters.

However, the most interesting aspect for me was how Susie could observe all that was going on in the lives of those closest to her. Susie is in 'my heaven', where there is a gazebo to sit and watch the events and happenings on Earth. The picture of heaven is an interesting one - a very subjective experience where everyone is in their own version of heaven, which sometimes merge together. So, for example, Susie's heaven is the high school she never made it to, in which there are javelin throwers in the athletics field every day, and other pupils.

Heaven is the outworking of your own desires and dreams: 'We had been given, in our heavens, our simplest dreams... "All you have to do is desire it, and if you desire it enough and understand why - really know - it will come."' (p. 18-19) Yet for Susie, heaven seems to be the place where she can watch what is happening on earth - not willing to give up on earth to enjoy her heaven.

It's interesting to see how heaven is imagined in secular literature - in complete contrast to the very presence of God as revealed by the Bible. For a start, it appears that everyone goes to their heaven on death - there is no hint of judgement or punishment, which is what our generation desires. Similarly, heaven seems to be what you make it yourself, rather than being an objective reality spent with every other child of God in love and worship and service, enjoying God's eternal Sabbath rest.

Perhaps the weirdest moment was in the closing pages, as Susie and Ruth 'change places' so that Susie can experience intimacy with Ray in Ruth's body. Very strange indeed.

All in all, an interesting concept and story, but there are some dark moments, and some weird moments. I'm not sure how closely the film will be to the book, but I'm not sure I want to see the film now, having read the book.

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