‘The Virgin Suicides’ by Jeffrey Eugenides tells the story of the five adolescent Lisbon sisters who all commit suicide. The youngest sister, thirteen year old Cecilia kills herself first and her death impacts the whole community, especially her other four sisters: fourteen year old Lux, fifteen year old Bonnie, sixteen year old Mary and seventeen year old Therese. The local neighbourhood develops an obsessive fascination with the mysterious Lisbon sisters with tragic consequences for all involved.
I have wanted to read Eugenides’s debut novel ‘The Virgin Suicides’ for a long time. I read ‘Middlesex’ a while ago and really enjoyed it but I was a little bit underwhelmed by ‘The Marriage Plot’ so I was hoping ‘The Virgin Suicides’ would live up to my expectations having heard many good things about it. Luckily, it did. I love the fact that Eugenides has written three completely different books yet his exceptionally well-written prose never disappoints. I only wish he could write a bit faster as there have been nine year gaps between the publication of each of his novels so far.
Like his other work, ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is elegantly written but it also has a haunting quality given that this story is much darker than ‘Middlesex’ and ‘The Marriage Plot’. The way the story is told in the first person plural from the point of view of a group of local teenage boys infatuated with the Lisbon sisters is very effective and is probably the best feature of the book. The identity (or identities) of the narrator(s) is never specifically revealed as they recall the events many years later. I found the almost total absence of dialogue a little odd at first as I felt the story was in danger of being overly descriptive but the book itself is not too long so in my opinion, I think Eugenides just about gets away with it.
Even though the ending is effectively given away in the title, there is still a story to be read here. Eugenides has created a convincingly eerie suburban atmosphere which will continue to linger in the mind of the reader long after finishing the book. I would now love to see the film which has also been critically acclaimed.