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Book review of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides [May. 11th, 2006|03:17 am]
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[dreammyselfaway]

My opinion: It has it's moment but mainly is quite rambling and not that readable. It's not quite finished yet either
Constructive criticism would be thoroughly welcomed!

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The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the five Lisbon girls who live out most of their short adolescence under house arrest in leafy suburbia. Their portraits are painted from the perspective of the neighbourhood boys who were infatuated and hoard, visually and literally, every available scrap of the girls’ lives.

 

(Exhibits #13-#15) Therese’s chemistry write-ups, Bonnie’s history paper on Simone Weil, Lux’s frequent forged excuses from phys.  ed…(101)

 

The book begins with the attempted suicide of the youngest, thirteen year old Cecilia, and ends with the middle sister Mary, reciprocating successfully. The interim is a montage of the girls’ secluded yet distinct lives and how they captured, and perhaps prescribed, the frustrated languor of the boys’ adolescence. The montage is assembled with the utmost attentiveness yet despite having observed the most intimate details about the girls ….Peter Sissen found Mary Lisbon’s secret cache of cosmetics tied up in a sock under the sink: tubes of red lipstick and the second skin of blush and base, and the depilatory wax that informed us she had a moustache we had never seen…the narrative is still characterised by their inability to know the Lisbon sisters or to understand exactly what it was that drove them to take their lives.

 

 The occasions on which the boys get direct access to the objects of their adoration amount to two. The first is after Cecilia’s attempted suicide when the resident psychiatrist, Dr Hornicker, suggests that she would benefit from more socialising. In accordance with his advice, Mr and Mrs Lisbon relax their rules and allow the girls a chaperoned party. In the second instance, Trip Fontaine, the school heart throb, negotiates Homecoming dates for the four remaining girls. Both of these occasions end in disaster: respectively Cecilia’s suicide and Lux staying out all night with Trip. Consequences which only serve to intensify the isolation in which the girls are kept (They are taken out of school after Homecoming)

 However on these rare occasions the girls are shown to be playful and, given the inscrutability that has grown around them, surprisingly normal. It is the persistence of these characteristics that lifts you into believing in and empathising with the boys in their attachment to life-loving girls at odds with circumstance.

 The narrative is not built on tension; the climax is inevitable, revealed as it is in the first line; but on the kind of scrutiny that accounts not only for detail but also for atmosphere. It is twenty years on from the suicides when the boys piece together their recall yet the days are thick with summer and the visceral sense invasions of what it means to be very much alive.

  The prose style is lyrical and has a momentum that carries you through death and despair with such a wry and light step that you never get bogged down in the subject matter. This is probably because The Virgin Suicides is a love story before it is a study of suicide. The focus is never on the absences and emptiness that are at the core of self destruction but on the charm and allure of the girls. The suicides are most significant insofar as they break the boys’ hearts.

It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them and they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: versipellis
2006-05-11 05:07 pm (UTC)
The book begins with the attempted suicide of the youngest, thirteen year old Cecilia, and ends with the middle sister Mary, reciprocating successfully.

Not clear that Cecilia succeeds... or that the others kill themselves also.

... perhaps prescribed, the frustrated languor...
Not sure 'prescribed' is the word you want there.

There should be a comma after 'attentiveness'.

...the narrative is still characterised by their inability...
What exactly does this mean?

Should be a comma after 'Cecilia's attempted suicide...'

...respectively Cecilia’s suicide and Lux staying out all night with Trip. Consequences which only serve to intensify the isolation in which the girls are kept (They are taken out of school after Homecoming)

Could be rewritten '... respectively, Cecilia's second and successful suicide attempt and Lux staying out all night with Trip.' (why is this disastrous? Because she gets in trouble or because something happens to her?) 'These consequences only serve to intensify the isolation in which the girls are kept; they are taken out of school...' (Also as far as I recall that's a consequence of the Lux/Trip thing, not Cecilia's death. Does Cecilia's death intensify their isolation?)

Example of girls' playfulness and normality?

Example of the summery, life-loving atmosphere?

Example of the lyrical prose?

Hope this helps!


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[User Picture]From: dreammyselfaway
2006-05-11 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I am applying your advice at this very moment. Sorry to impinge on your good will further but...my friend said it read more like an essay than a review and advised me to be more opinionated and scrap the whole backing up points with quotations style. Do you agree?
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[User Picture]From: versipellis
2006-05-12 08:43 pm (UTC)
You're welcome ^^
It read like an English essay to me. It reminded me of the ones I had to write where quotations had to be applied liberally.
In the reviews I've read in newspapers, however, they use fewer quotations, only about two or three.
I got the sense that you quite liked the book, but only because you didn't voice direct criticisms.
What are you trying to say with the piece? Is it for school/college/university, or for a community? Do you have others' work to compare it against? Is there a set criterion for how many quotes to have?
Sorry I can't give you a firm answer, but feel free to ask if you want more opinions.
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[User Picture]From: dreammyselfaway
2006-05-12 09:15 pm (UTC)
Gosh, you are very obliging! It's a book review for my journalism portfolio, there is absolutely no criterion. I liked the book very much indeed and am trying to sell it to others with my review. I've rewritten it in a slightly more opinionated style (you don't have to read it as you may well be sick of it!)....


The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the five Lisbon girls who live out most of their short adolescence under house arrest in leafy suburbia. Their portraits are painted from the perspective of the neighbourhood boys who were infatuated and hoarded, visually and literally, every available scrap of the girls’ lives.
(Exhibits #13-#15) Therese’s chemistry write-ups, Bonnie’s history paper on Simone Weil, Lux’s frequent forged excuses from phys. ed…(101)

Eugenides’ prose style is lyrical and has a momentum that carries you through death and despair with such a wry and light step that you never get bogged down in the subject matter. This is probably because The Virgin Suicides is a love story before it is a study of suicide. The focus is never on the absences and emptiness that are at the core of self destruction but on the vivacity and allure of the girls. The suicides are most significant insofar as they break the boys’ hearts.

It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them and they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.

As well as being a eulogy to love rendered elusive by fate, The Virgin Suicides is a gentle satire of a culture that fails to appreciate human complexity for what it is. Ms Perl, the opportunistic reporter assembles enough hot air to write that, Suicides May Have Been Pact, the local community interprets the outcome of the Lisbon girls as symptomatic of all that is wrong with their country.

What is omitted in this reductionist public perception is what this book is dedicated to restoring, That is to say, the character of the girls and the nature of their lives. Eugenides shows us through his devoted boys that to care is to look closely and to resist the temptation to impose answers. The usual suspects – parents, therapists – that dominate in book about teenage suffering take a peripheral role.

With all that usually clutters our perception of dramatic behaviour deftly cleared to the side, the girls are free to be the heart of the story. The success of the book depends on how convincing they are and how much the reader can empathise with the enduring fixation of our narrators. The answer is completely.

Despite the seclusion that defines their lives, the girls are compulsively and vibrantly real. On the rare occasions that the boys get access to their company, they are shown to be playful and engaging, completely untouched by the bitterness or disappointment that you’d expect such oppressive conditions to invoke. With exception of the more downbeat Cecilia, who commits suicide near the beginning of the book, the Lisbon sisters are simply life-loving adolescent girls at inscrutable odds with circumstance.




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[User Picture]From: versipellis
2006-05-13 08:33 pm (UTC)
I like this version - it has more of an overall message (and one I hadn't considered before - damn, I want to read the book again now ^^)
A few points:

Ms Perl, the opportunistic reporter assembles enough hot air to write that, Suicides May Have Been Pact, the local community interprets the outcome of the Lisbon girls as symptomatic of all that is wrong with their country.
Either not correctly punctuated or not a proper sentence... the 'Suicides May Have...' should probably be italicised.

That is to say, - small 't' on 'that'?

'book about teenage suffering' should be 'books'.

I can't look at your racism one, though - I'm so tired ^^ I may look if I remember to check back. But I very much enjoyed reading this one.

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From: (Anonymous)
2006-05-21 11:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to assist me :) you have been ever so helpful...my teacher tears his hair out over my grammar
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[User Picture]From: versipellis
2006-05-22 08:14 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
Got to say I've seen much worse grammar than yours. Still, a teacher with standards has to be good ^^
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