I’ve been reading a few non-fiction books again recently, which in and of themselves were good, however, as usual, I found that I was yearning for the richness of prose and the enjoyment of language that I only seem to find in a good novel. So, whilst still finishing a couple of non-fiction books, I headed towards our ‘novel’ bookshelves in search for a quick fix…
I wanted something fairly small and easy to read yet something that had real style to its narrative. What I plumped for in the end, was Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, a book I’d first read five years ago.

The Virgin Suicides

As sombre as the title and indeed the main plot line undoubtedly is, this is a hugely readable and, I have to admit, immensely enjoyable feast of a novel.

For me, the whole appeal and attraction of the book is its intriguing, unique and wry narrative style. It is dark yet humourous, sad but also fun, highly nostalgic and often quite poignant. Here is the opening paragraph, which gives a taste of what it is like:

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope. They got out of the EMS truck, as usual moving much too slowly in our opinion, and the fat one said under his breath, “This ain’t TV, folks, this is how fast we go.” He was carrying the heavy respirator and cardiac unit past the bushes that had grown monstrous and over the erupting lawn, tame and immaculate thirteen months earlier when the trouble began.

In fact, its narrative voice is unlike any other that I can think of in that it is told from the first person plural perspective – that is, it is narrated by a collection of men who are looking back to their shared childhoods, growing up in the same neighbourhood as the five doomed Lisbon girls. This strange narrative perspective gives the book an otherworldly feel, as the boys/men discuss various ‘artifacts’ relating to the five girls they were all so enchanted by.

If you like this, you might also enjoy: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, or The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath or Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.

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