The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear. (via Goodreads)
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This book took top place on my Christmas list and when my brother gifted me this beautiful edition, it also took top place on my TBR shelf. I had heard mostly good things from people on Booktube and the premise was so intriguing that I got ridiculously excited when I eventually got my hands on it. Funny story actually, I didn't get this book on Christmas day because my wonderful brother left it in his house and couldn't go back and get it so I ended up getting a late Christmas present about a week later. Anyway, it was a really quick read for me and I did enjoy it but I didn't think it was amazing like most other people seemed to.
As the name suggests The Virgin Suicides is about suicide. It is made clear from the start that all 5 Lisbon girls commit suicide. There is no sugar-coating it and it is referenced many times meaning the inevitability of their death looms over us throughout the book and we are just waiting for it to happen. This atmosphere of expectation and inevitability seems to have hung over the girls and the neighbours often said that they knew that their lives would somehow end in tragedy. It is clear that from the very start they were set apart as different even before their youngest sister committed suicide.
The Virgin Suicides is told through the eyes of a group of boys who live across the street from the Lisbon sisters. We never learn the names of our narrators or how many of them there are. They are essentially obsessed with the girls and know everything about them despite only having talked to them a handful of times. They are completely taken in by the mystery of the Lisbon sisters which really translates to us, the readers. They are obsessed and so are we. I think this is due in part to the fact that it was a very visual book. The boys collected souvenirs from the Lisbon sisters' lives and interviewed people who knew them, they then present them to us as if we are reading a document or report about them. It really solidifies the Lisbon girls as real people and draws you in to the mystery
The effect of having outsiders as the narrators is that we will never know exactly why the Lisbon girls decided to do what they did, not even their parents knew. There is a whole lot of speculation and I suppose it is this ongoing mystery that has these boys still thinking about the girls 20 years down the line. Not only are they examining the mystery of the Lisbon girls but also their own childhood. They are fondly looking back at a childhood in a time gone by and thinking about how their lives have changed. When writing the book, they are middle-aged with families, most are growing fat and balding. Back when the Lisbon girls were alive was the best time of their lives and so that is what the Lisbon girls represent for them, their heyday and also what could have been. Who knows, maybe they could have ended up marrying one of the girls.
However I can't help but feel that The Virgin Suicides glorified suicide. There seems to be that feeling of forever remaining young and pure that people think is so romantic these days. People are drawn to tragedy and like to see it for something more than what it is, a tragic event that could have been prevented. The events of this books are horrifying for any family but I think they were downplayed somewhat, more emphasis could have been placed on the severity of their actions.
I really enjoyed Eugenides' writing. He perfectly recreated the atmosphere of the stiflingly small mid-American town where there is very little for young people to do and conveyed to us effectively exactly what it was like living across from these girls. He really draws you in and makes you feel part of the story. I would definitely consider reading Eugenides' other novels, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot, as this was his first novel, I can't help but think that his writing would be much better with a bit more experience under his belt.
To summarise, I really enjoyed this book although it did fall down in places, I'm glad that I read it and would definitely recommend it.
If you want to watch me review this book, here's the link to the video.