As it’s a lovely sunny day outside, I decided it would be the opportune time to stay in with the curtains shut and review The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, which is, along with The Remains of the Day, probably one of my favourite novels of the last forty years.
The Book relates the mystery surrounding five sisters who committed suicide, from the viewpoint of a narrator who is looking back and chronicling the events preceding the deaths right through until the aftermath.
Although not the cheeriest of premises, I was instantly drawn in. Partly because the book starts with a suicide in progress and like most people I become a voyeur when it comes to grim details in books. However horrible these things are they, are always readable right?
Mainly though I was drawn in through the atmosphere, not only is it bursting with brooding melancholy and nostalgia but has a timeless feel to it. There is haunting sense to proceedings as the outcome is preordained, and seems to be recognised by the characters who are seemingly powerless to do anything but play their part in the ensuing tragedy.
Like the film American Beauty, there is a troubled and depressed air, a sort of suburban darkness encapsulating the children and the full force of the visceral horror of growing up and mortality. This coupled with the naivety and knowledge that most of the adults around them are all deeply conceited, scarred by time and clinging to all they have left in a vain way gives the whole affair an air of grim despondency.
All this is offset though with some very black humour that is strewn through the story to help keep it a little lighter and the narrator’s voice is detached from events almost gives it a journalistic feel but he never stays aloof for long as the passion these girls evoked always radiates through.
This isn’t ‘A Catcher in the Rye for our time’ as The Observer puts it. It’s infinitely richer and actually leaves you with a sense of wonder at the darkest parts the human soul has to offer. But the review of that book will have to wait for another day when I’m in a more ranty mood.