Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

 The problem that faces Alice Sebold's debut novel The Lovely Bones is that, as you all know, Peter Jackson adapted it to film......and made a complete bollocks up of it! With so many people the film adaptation has in many ways come to overshadow the novel. Because the first thing that springs to mind when The Lovely Bones is mentioned is Jackson's interpretation. Well I find it has. as there are still many out there who haven't read the novel. But even myself who has read it find when my thoughts drift Bones'  way, it is the film I usually think of first.

 It is of course then that I think of the novel and ask myself ' How could Peter Jackson have got it so wrong? ' Suffice to say the majority of those I have spoken to who have read the novel, and seen the film, ask the same question. In fact most agree it was a poor adaptation that Jackson turned into a CGI show case at the expense of the novel's tale of grief.

 Now since this is meant to be a book review I won't go too deeply into the films failings. Suffice to say I thought the CGI way overdone. The novel really has nothing in it that warrants its use. Secondly it isn't an overly complex novel and a decent script writer could have adapted it well. Jackson for me played around with the novels chronology too much. He even changed very basic things that annoyed me as well. But worse, the feeling of the family's grief is just so obviously void onscreen. Grief is a central part of the novel.

 So film criticism out of the way what about he novel? Well first of all it has divided opinions as much as the film!! On several book review pages on the net I frequent opinions vary markedly. It seems to be a novel you are either going to like or dislike There doesn't appear to be very much middle ground. I found this interesting because even before Jackson announced his decision to adapt the novel it was fairly well known. But what got me was how could this be so when so many people genuinely didn't think much of it. Regardless it became a best seller.

 Well if you don't know what it is about then read on! Susie Salmon is a 14 year old who, on her way home from school, is raped and murdered by a serial killer after he lures her into a makeshift underground den. The murderer is no less than her neighbour who she knew as Mr. Harvey. The novel unfolds with Susie watching the subsequent events surrounding her murder from heaven. She narrates as she watches over her grieving family, her murderer, and the police. As she does so she struggles to accept her death, all the while trying to cling to the world of the living.

 She follows her family's struggles with grief and how each deals with it in their individual ways. Her father becomes obsessed with finding her killer, her mother leaving the family and moving to the west coast of the US, her sister's growth from teenager to adult hood, and her younger brother trying to make sense of the hole in his family. All the while the murderer is feeling the so called itch to kill again. It is somewhat unsettling to think that she knows where her body is hidden. Even more so when her sister stands next to the safe the body is hidden in inside the murderer's basement. So close and yet so far away.

  If you have seen the film, and yet not read the novel, there is still much of the novel that is recognisable. But the film is chronologically out from the novel. But what the film utter fails to convey is the grief of the novel. The Lovely Bones is a moving exploration of loss and mourning. But it is almost a novel of two halves, and the sadness I felt didn't really kick in until the last third of the novel. It wasn't through lack of build up because the novel opens with Susie's murder. But even though we see Susie looking over her old world from heaven the sense of grief and loss isn't there for some time. But believe me when it kicks in it is emotionally draining stuff and very, very sad stuff.

 I can't believe such a novel could come from the human mind, and yet grief is an inescapable part of life. I think the first 2/3 of the novel, whilst a reasonable story, rather bland. But the last third are well worth sticking around for as Sebold opens up the grief stakes...and they become a flood! I found myself  profoundly moved by the last third of the novel and couldn't put it down.

 Yes I can see both sides of the equation when it comes to this novel. The first 2/3 confounded me and I wondered if I would bother finishing it. It is not that it is poorly written or un-engaging, but I felt a flatness to it. But when the last 100 pages come along it really becomes something else. Even though a novel it could almost be a text book on grief and grieving. The novel winds up with Susie's family slowly but surely coming out of the blackness and moving forward. It has taken many years but they manage. One thing I do like, which adds to the heinousness of the crime and impact on the family, is that Susie's body is never found. I think this added to her family's breakdown as they didn't have closure. That is so much a part of their grieving.

 Amazon has this with 4/5 stars from a staggering 3,212 reviews! For me I would give the first 200 pages a 3/5, and the last 100 odd, 5/5. It is here where it really picks up and destroys your emotions. Honestly I've never read anything that just so portrayed sadness as Alice Sebold did in the last pages of this her debut novel. Hard to genuinely recommend because it has so divided opinions. As such it is hard to gauge what an individual would make of it. From over-rated to excellent ultimately the reader must, and will, decide for themselves.

 I for one feel ambiguous to it except for those last 100 pages, which are superb. But I'll say this. Even though a bit flawed it far surpasses the film!


  1. I quite liked The Lovely Bones but it is very much a book I read once and will never read again. I don't really rate Alice Sebold and her other book Almost Moon was so bad I couldn't even finish it.

    The Lovely Bones was about the Salmon family and how they coped with grief not an excuse to show off his effects company. It was far too much and nothing like what I imagined when I read the book

    Peter Jackson sacrificed an opportunity for decent storytelling in favour for an over abundance of CGI.

    I saw the film in the cinema at the time and it was a good watch although not memorable. I caught it on tv again quite recently and it holds up very well although, again, completely unmemorable which in fairness is exactly the same as the book.

    Brilliant write up though - I have promised a friend I will review her novel and I know I will struggle to review a book

    K :-)

  2. It is an unusual book isn't it? I didn't dislike it but I didn't love it either. I almost gave up on it by page 200 and I can't explain why. There is just something I can't quite define that makes it a dificult book to totally engage in.
    Jackson absolute stuffed up a good chance to make a good film. I think the novel a good story but the way he turned it into a CGI fest missed the whole point of the family's grief and how they dealt with it.
    But you are right it is a decent watch although nothing memorable. I certainly didn't see why the use of CGI was neccessary as there was nothing in the book to warrant it.
    Oh well!!
    Book reviews aren't easy to write!! I have read far more books than I have reviwed this year.

  3. Did you ever try to read Almost Moon? That book is now used to ward off moths - it makes a better bug protector that a book lol!

  4. Hhahaha! No. I know that she had written other novels but really hadn't felt the desire to read them.

  5. After I saw the film, I thought that if that sucked, then the source material has to be almost worse but to be honest I've been wanting to take a look at this lately. Thanks for the review Brent.

  6. T%he novel is flawed to be sure but the film adaptation is more so! Jackson totally cocked it up I'm afraid and what is good about the novel got lost among all the CGI. A shame because the novel has some strong points.

  7. Did you know you can create short links with AdFly and make money for every click on your shortened urls.