Set in Pennsylvania in 1973, the story centres around 14 year old Susie Salmon and her fatal decision to take a shortcut home from school through a cornfield. Unfortunately for Susie her neighbour Mr. Harvey is also in the cornfield and his intentions are far from neighbourly. He lures Susie to an underground den where he rapes and murders her. It maybe the end of Susie’s life on Earth, but it is very much the start of the story.
In life Susie doesn’t feel she has much impact, but from the vantage of her heaven she watches as her death has a profound effect on her family and class mates. She is powerless to act as first her dad and then her sister realise Mr. Harvey’s guilt, but are unable to bring him to justice.
Initially Susie’s murder rips her family and friends apart, but through Susie’s narration we watch as they learn to deal with the tragedy and begin to rebuild both themselves and their relationships. By the end of the story we leave the Salmon family and their neighbours as much stronger developed individuals that are joined by their shared loss.
The obvious theme running through The Lovely Bones is grief and peoples differing reactions, especially when the death is a violent rape and murder of a child. The book is a journey through this process which is both long and difficult and affects people differently. By the books conclusion the main characters have worked their way through the grieving process allowing acceptance and stabilisation to shape their new lives.
Love and Acceptance
Hand in hand with grief comes love and acceptance. Firstly love for Susie and acceptance of her death and then love of those that knew her and acceptance of their reactions to her death. Initially the Salmon family try to break away from the love that binds them together. None more so than Susie’s mother who escapes physically, but also her Father whose withdrawal takes an emotional form. Once they accept that the love that binds them is nurturing, not suffocating they can begin to rebuild their lives.
Good versus Evil
Initially the theme of good and evil appear clear cut; Susie is good and Mr Harvey is bad. However, as we learn about the events that have shaped Mr. Harvey, we develop an understanding and in some part a sympathy for him, but can anything justify what he did? Susie feels not and she doesn’t just want to avenge her death, but protect others from his future actions.
Although the community initially react with anger, disbelieve and sorrow at the news of Susie’s rape and subsequent murder, they are soon able to shrug off the violence they have encountered and forget the victim. This draws on the American historical view of rape, where it was not viewed as the violent crime it is now. The book also suggests that communities need to be more vigilant of the dangers within, as well as supportive of its victims.
There is no doubting that the theme of this book is both disturbing and sad, but because you don’t have time to build a relationship with the main character, Susie, before her death it is hard to fully connect on an emotional level. The subject of grief is well handled, however some of the characters lack the depth which would have made this book a more compelling read. In summery it’s a very readable book as long as you don’t expect too much.
Likely to recommend 4/5
1. In her heaven Susie surrounds herself with her favourite things. What would you have in your heaven?
2. How does guilt manifest itself in the different characters of Susie’s life, her family, friends, the police and finally her murderer?
3. Do you think that Buckley can really see Susie, or is it his coping mechanism for dealing with her murder?
4. Is it possible to justify Abigail’s abandonment of her family?
5. The moral of the story could be that from tragedy comes healing. Susie’s murder breaks apart her family, but also brings them back together, it also strengthens the community. Can good come from evil?
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