Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones: book review

If there is an afterlife, what will it be like? Will you know you’re dead? Will you be able to see your grieving family and friends? In ‘The Lovely Bones’ a murdered teenager has arrived there but has to work it all out for herself.

I knew that opinion was divided about this book, so was interested to see why. I have come to the conclusion that the people who feel really strongly about it, are those who have strong feelings about an afterlife. The inbetween world inhabited by Susie doesn’t fit into Christianity’s idea of heaven (or any other religion’s for that matter), and the lack of retribution for the murderer is unpalatable to others.

Many people are put off by the idea that the main character has been brutally murdered, particularly as she was a 14-year-old girl. Personally I’ve never really understood why it is worse for a child to be murdered or to die of a disease than an adult; surely every life is equally precious. The people who love the book seem to do so because ultimately the message is one of hope, and the portrayal of an afterlife which is still able to reach out to the people left behind.

As for my reaction to the book, I was rather disappointed. After reading all the hype on the back cover and the several pages of gushing and enthusiastic reviews at the front of the book, I was expecting something better written. I had the feeling that Alice Sebold had written the ending of the book first, perhaps as a short story, as that seemed more polished than the rest. The rest of the book seemed to have been added later when she decided to make a book of it. I may be wrong, but that was the feeling I got.

The Lovely Bones: the film

While I was reading, I also had a sense of deja vu, as I recognised elements of the films ‘Ghost’ and ‘Sixth Sense’, and as these are amongst my favourite films, you would think that I would be looking forward to watching the film of ‘The Lovely Bones’. I think, however, that I will wait until the film is shown on television, as there are many other good films which I would prefer to go the cinema to see.

Peter Jackson on The Lovely Bones

As a side note, I was listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago, and heard Peter Jackson, the director of the movie, talking about ‘The Lovely Bones’. He said that several people had read it during filming of ‘Lord of the Rings’, and had enjoyed discussing how to film it. He said that they had deliberately not depicted the inbetween world as a specifically Biblical heaven, so that it could be open to interpretation. He sounded genuinely surprised when the interviewer commented that Susie was wearing earrings in the shape of crucifixes in the film!

It was also interesting to hear how they had decided not to show that Susie was raped and dismembered, as they were working with a teenage actress, and as parents of teenagers, did not wish to expose her to this. Ironic, given that Alice Sebold’s first book was an autobiography describing how she had overcome the trauma of being raped whilst at university. So I suspect that the film is an ode to computer graphics, and a Disneyfied version of the book, with the messages of hope, love and forgiveness overcoming evil being laid on with a trowel. If I ever see the film, I’ll let you know!