The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold | Book Review

The Lovely Bones book cover

I loved the concept of The Lovely Bones. It’s the story of Susie Salmon, a teenage girl who is horrifically raped and murdered. She finds herself in heaven looking down on her family on Earth as they come to terms with her death and try to solve the mystery of her murder. While I found myself gripped enough to finish it in just a few days, I did have a few little gripes. There’ll be spoilers, I’m afraid.

First things first, the way in which the afterlife was portrayed was really interesting. It’s emphasised that Susie is in her version of heaven, and that the other people she interacts with there are in their versions of heaven. It seems they each construct the environment around them based on their individual desires. Cool, right? But I wanted more! I wanted to understand the logistics of this afterlife, how it works, how people connect with other dead folk, all that jazz.

I picked this book up specifically because I knew the narrator was in heaven, and I love novels about the afterlife – I’m working on one myself, and some elements of my afterlife world are kind of similar to the one Sebold created. I therefore found the lack of detail on Susie’s environment a tad disappointing. However, I suppose that’s an issue with my expectations rather than the book itself, because heaven and the afterlife isn’t really what the book is about – it’s just a unique way to frame the story.

At its heart, this is a story about bereavement, grief, and loss. It documents the lives of those who have lost a daughter, sister or friend. In particular, its about the ripples that go out when one life is brutally snuffed out; it explores the ways in which multiple lives are affected by the murder of just one person.

The murder (or murder-mystery, I suppose) aspects are also not the sole focus of the story, as much as I wanted them to be. It’s very much driven by characters rather than plot. Sure, we follow along as Susie’s father and sister figure out who her murderer was, but they never quite see the mystery through to the end. They never quite get to the truth.

I wanted Susie’s murderer to get the justice that he deserved, and I wasn’t satisfied by the conclusion. I wanted the cops to catch the murderer and for Susie’s family – and the families of all the other women and girls he murdered – to watch him be sentenced in the proper way. Instead, he’s quietly killed by a falling icicle. Meh. At least he’s dead, I guess.

The ending of the book was a little peculiar in general. Susie manages to leap out of heaven and into the body of Ruth, one of her schoolmates who believed she saw Susie’s ghost as it made its journey to heaven on the night that she died. Susie, in Ruth’s body, then sleeps with her high school crush, Ray.

You’d think that while being in a human body back on Earth, Susie would want to hang out with her beloved family one last time. But nah, instead she uses Ruth’s body to have sex with her crush, which is a little bizarre to say the least. Oh, and she doesn’t bother telling anybody where her body is buried, either, which you’d think would be a priority having watched her family and the police fruitlessly search for it for years.

Later, Susie’s soul fades out of Ruth’s body and returns to heaven. Ruth’s soul moves back into her own body and she wakes up stark naked with Ray in front of her. It’s implied that Ruth is aware that Susie possessed her body, but it still feels icky to think that her body was used for sex, particularly when the book revolves around the horror of rape.

Now, we’ve talked about things I didn’t like so much, so I should probably discuss what I did like. I loved Lindsay, Susie’s younger sister, who was brave and strong and clever. I loved Abigail, Susie’s grandmother, who was sassy and straightforward and witty.

I liked how we learned about Susie and the type of person she was as she discussed moments from her past – snippets from her school or family life – as she remembered them by watching the goings-on of earth. I also really enjoyed her narration; it was mature, and yet it was still the voice of a teenager, filled with the hopes and aspirations that a fourteen-year-old might have. It also felt like she matured alongside her family and it was nice to know that she could still grow and mature in her spirit even if he was unable to in life.

All in all, I enjoyed The Lovely Bones. It’s a unique concept and a very compelling read. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews on GoodReads, however, and it seems that there’s a fair amount of mixed feedback. Some adore it, others just couldn’t get on with it. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think of it in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold | Book Review

  1. I didn’t really care for the book or movie. I did like the way their showed her “limbo” if you will. It’s not as much as her closure, because she already resigned herself to what happened, but it is her hanging around to make sure everyone she cared about could resign themselves too. Finding her body would have really just made things worse. Their wounds were closing and they were finding the new normal. Even with their affairs.

    1. I haven’t seen the movie but I’m keen to, I’ve heard it’s a little weirder than the book. Yeah I see what you mean, it was definitely about her family finding a new normal, but somehow I just found the ending so unfulfilling despite knowing that her family were doing okay.

  2. I read it last year, expecting to really enjoy it, as I’d been recommended it a few times. But I had some of the same issues as you with it – namely, the ending. The way Susie possessed Ruth’s body didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story for me, and it would have been nice to have more closure on Susie’s death. I love the concept of the story, and some of the portrayals of grief were so vivid and raw that I felt what the family were feeling. It’s a book I sit on the fence of most of the time.

    1. Yeah I totally agree, definitely an on-the-fence kind of book. Some bits brilliant, other bits I could take or leave. Probably not one I’ll find myself reaching for for a second read.

  3. I read this book about 10 years ago, and parts of it are still with me, which is unusual. I especially remember the ‘create your own heaven’ concept, which is as close to any kind of belief I hold. And I seem to remember pets were allowed – better still! I even recall discussing this at length with my work colleagues of the time.
    However, the book did fail the ultimate test: it was sold / given away when we emigrated to South Africa. All the fiction I really rated came along!

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head – it’s one that I’ll remember, probably because of the unique concept, but not necessarily one that I’d treasure and take with me across the world!

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