The Virgin Suicides made me think about what exactly the word ‘classic’ means when it comes to books (spoiler: I still don’t know). I discovered it was first published in 1993 only after I had chosen it to be my eleventh classic of the year. I’d never considered before that one would’ve been published in my lifetime, but according to Goodreads, many other people have shelved it as ‘classic’ also. It also has that modern classic feel to it. It seems that everybody has read it or has heard of it, yet it’s not just popular, but acknowledged to be a literary gem. Regardless of whether it is or not, I felt that it was one of those novels that I must read. And so I did.
As per usual, I did not read the blurb before starting the book and so I had assumed that it’d be about a suicide pact, perhaps one started by a group of friends at school. But it’s actually about much more than the suicide, because you already know that it’s going to happen and how, but not why. It centres around five sisters: the Lisbon girls – Therese (17), Mary (16), Bonnie (15), Lux (14) and Cecilia (13). It is narrated by the boys who doted on them, but twenty years later. They simply refer to themselves as ‘we’ and seemed to tell the story in a very emotionally detached way and so I couldn’t quite work out who they were at first – they often refer to specific ‘exhibits’ such as photographs. Yet they also often slipped into dreamy reminiscence. The Virgin Suicides felt blissful in spite of the imminent tragedy. The boys knew the girls better than anyone, but also did not know them at all.
I usually see storytelling as being more important than the writing, but in this case I couldn’t separate the two – the writing is beautiful and the style feels essential to the story. I felt that The Virgin Suicides depicted heightened (and exaggerated) realism and it forces you to truly think about the Lisbon girls, not just as characters, but as real people with intentions. Although the reader is viewing them from the outside, it is still very much the girls’ story – it’s just that they are not the ones telling it.
The Virgin Suicides is a poignant, contemplative and very American novel that takes us on a distorted flashback through adolescent heartache and emotional pain that can be difficult to grasp unless experienced. I’ll definitely be watching the movie adaptation because I’ve heard that although it’s very well done, it’s very different. I’ll also have to read Jeffrey Eugenides’ other novels, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot.
Published: 1st April 1993