Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Devouring Books: The Virgin Suicides By Jeffrey Eugenides

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to read The Virgin Suicides before Middlesex by Eugenides, even though it was Middlesex I was really interested in (I know, what a weirdo right?! I don’t have a clue what I was thinking there!) In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t really enjoy The Virgin Suicides very much, for a number of reasons. It didn’t help that I read it in essentially 2 parts with a 3 week gap in-between, because of this horrible death illness I had that made me useless for doing anything, but that’s not the entire problem I had with it.

One of the main stumbling block for me was the nature of the narration itself. I didn’t really feel like the male narrator could really have a grasp on the way these girls were feeling, and so it always felt cold and impersonal to me. I’m not necessarily saying I wanted tortured teenage girl narration, whining about feeling trapped and suppressed and so on (narration that all the Lisbon girls would be entitled to), but viewing these girls solely through the eyes of men almost leaves them without voices and makes them seem less important to the story than they actually are (they are, in fact crucial, in that without them, there is no story.) I appreciate that these are things that the narrator does recognise himself, in his awareness of the limits of how little he and the other neighbourhood boys could know of these girls, but this still doesn’t necessarily make the book feel any more relatable to, for me.

Another thing that feels off about the novel is the way it is presented, in almost a report-like way at times, including statistics about teenage suicide, and reasons for it and things like that. This is not necessarily something that is out of place within fiction, but the book seems to lapse in and out of a report style and sometimes wanders into the territory of teenage boy daydreams, when in fact it should surely have focused more on the girls and why they feel the way they do, rather than having to have men explain to us why they think they do. Again, I realise that this is the style of narration that Eugenides has chosen, for his own reasons, but it somehow left me cold rather than caring about any of the people involved. I felt moderately sad for the girls, but I don’t think as much as I should have, and although their presence haunted the narrator, I can’t say the same- in fact, I could barely remember their names (with the notable exception of Lux, the ‘promiscuous’ [read easy] sister, who is, for obvious reasons, the boys’ favourite).

I think I have looked at the novel in perhaps an overly feminist way (which, I won’t apologise for, but will recognise that it may have formed my opinions on the book), but I still think it does have the flaws I have identified. Ignoring the overtly male viewpoint, however, the novel does look at just how unknowable the motivations behind suicide can be, but this still doesn’t seem like enough to make me care, although maybe that’s not what the book aims for. Where it should have been about the girls, it is in the end about the boys who worship them without even knowing them, further assistance to the view that women are worthy of male attention solely through their physical attributes, a view that I for one am not exactly a fan of. On the front of the copy I have, there is a quote that likens it to The Catcher in the Rye, an analogy I would go along with since they both leave me feeling like they are inadequate and just lacking that certain something that would make them appeal to me more.


  1. I think The Virgin Suicides is one of those rare books that didn't impact me nearly as much as the film. I found the book to be lacking.

    The film is really artistic and shows rather than tells in a way the book obviously couldn't. If you haven't seen the film, I'd recommend checking it out.

  2. I do want to see the film- It's kind of why I got this book instead of Middlesex (I still don't know what I was thinking there! So weird!) Although the Godfather III totally put me off Sofia Coppola.... LOL