I had heard a lot about Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones”. My sister was highly appreciative of it and it figured as a must read in many literary listings. Usually I am kind of slow on the uptake of new releases and I take practically a decade to find out that a particular book was “in”, about 10 years back. Yes! I kind of live in intellectual Stone Age! Besides a book that’s rated so high by all is many time such disappointments, that I am always hesitant to pick up anything cried up by one and all as “brilliant”.
Therefore with absolutely no expectation, but with a strongest sense of curiosity, I started reading “The Lovely Bones”. The narrative in itself very unique; starting in 1973, the story is told by 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who speaks from heaven, after she has been brutally raped and then murdered by her neighbor Mr. Harvey. From heaven she watches as her family tries to cope with first the unexpected disappearance of their eldest daughter, until the police confirm her death, despite not being able to find a body. She sees her family hoping that the police, and especially Detective Len Fenerman, try to find the murderer. She tells us how they had mistakenly tried to implicate Ray Singh of her murder, the boy who she liked and who liked her back, until he provides an iron cast alibi of attending a youth conference where there 6000 witness who saw him give a speech. She watches as her family starts falling apart, her Lindsey left to cope in school as the girl whose sister was murdered and her father who becomes obsessed with the firm notion that his neighbor, Mr. Harvey had something to do with his daughter’s death. Her story follows the high and lows of Jack and Abigail Salmon, the growing up of Lindsey and Buckley and their efforts to find, retribution, peace, sanity and comfort, either individually or as a family to get a closure on the events that affected and changed the very design of their lives. She also lookout for Ray Singh, her first and only love, seeing him cope with her loss and then the false accusation, until he discovers a strength to be on his own with support of friends like Ruth Conners, a misfit, whom Susie’s spirit touches as she leaves earth and who like Ray, find their own unique comfort zone.
It is a beautiful book. Not to say it does not have flaws – there are places when the plot kind of drags and then suddenly it picks up steam. There are parts which kind of seem very far-fetched and borderline hocus-pocus like when Susie returns to take over Ruth’s body temporarily. However over the entire book is marvelous. The characters are all very well drawn and their actions more than descriptions draw you out and while, you may not understand all of their feelings, you cannot help feeling empathetic for them. My favorite naturally was Jack Salmon and Lindsey Salmon – in both Ms. Sebold had created two strong characters that like all human being fail at times, but have the great capacity to rise and live not only for themselves but also for the ones they love. Lindsey especially comes across as one bold, sassy and wonderfully heartwarming creature. The supporting cast is equally good – you love the falsely implicated Ray Singh, with his sensitivity and brilliance; his lovely and fiercely protective mother, Ruth, the haunted girl who tries to understand the voice of Susie and Mr. Harvey! In a clear departure from the usual narratives, Ms. Sebold manages to show a humane side of a rapist/murderer. She brilliantly manages to show his past that shaped his character without excusing his actions or even forgiving them. This fine balance is one of best feats in such genre as this book and rarely have I ever read a book where a character like Mr. Harvey is left without being too white or black or too grey – he is shown as what he is – a rapist and a murder who had a difficult and tumultuous childhood. This is stroke of genius. The plot is engaging and keeps you hooked, and you cannot rest in peace until you have read the end. There are some wonderfully picturesque description of Pennsylvania and later California. I really like the imagined heaven of the author – a heaven which is unique to each, filled with everything one desires expect the presence of the loved ones, still residing on earth!! It a vivid, life-like, delightful and believable place without the traditional and oft-repeated idea of a place with angels and their wings and golden harps and all of that!! Ms. Sebold, beautifully captures the loneliness and the sense of isolation that attends to each family member after such an event. She captures how as humans we try to cope in our unique way, failing, falling, running, until we find our closures, our peace.
It is without doubt, one of the most beautifully written books!!!