At last I've caught up with the rest of you and finished The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
I took it as travel reading on my London day, couldn't keep my eyes open on the early train up but was glued to the book on the late train home.
Glued to it, but having to read at a very measured pace. Alice won't be rushed because there is something clever to take in on just about every line.
Reading, Newbury, Swindon, possibly Castle Carey, perhaps Pewsey, Taunton and probably Glasgow, Edinburgh, Crewe and Manchester all passed in a blur and I knew that if I didn't finish the book on the train I'd have to sit and read the last few pages in the car at the station before I'd be able to drive home safely.
But still I couldn't rush.
Thankfully someone pulled the communication cord and the train had a minor delay ( lot of drink flying around late on a Saturday night) and so by Tiverton Parkway I'd turned the final page and could think about the book for the last few miles to Exeter.It was quite a relief to have read it in the end, bit like my delayed run up of ten years to Donna Tartt's A Secret History.
I gather The Lovely Bones one of those opinion-polarising books, you like it or you loath it. A young adult book marketed for an adult audience.
Actually I loved it.
Firstly I turned to Joyce Carol Oates who always makes interesting bookish observations, and as a prolific writer I feel she is someone who knows her stuff. In Uncensored Views and Reviews she writes ostensibly about Lucky, Alice Sebold's memoir, but remarks very perceptively that The Lovely Bones
"might be called 'inspirational' fiction in its simulation of tragedy in the service of survival since its goal is to confirm what we wish we could believe and not to unsettle us with harsh, intransigent truths about human cruelty."
For those who haven't read this book, you quickly discover that Susie, a young girl, is speaking from heaven following her gruesome murder at the hands of a serial killer. She describes her own death and then watches on, seemingly helplessly, as her family work through all the stages of their grief and the perpetrator roams freely, but in fact she's often with them and they sense that.
We move alongside as readers, becoming Susie's shadow as events unfold, unravel a bit and move towards a resolution.
I was drawn in, settled down and stayed, and to read the second half of this book in one stretch was a real treat.I was fascinated by the grief process within the family, different family members all coping (or not) in their own way and in their own time and all seen as if watching from above.
Thinking back I really did read this as if I was looking down on events from altitude and I'm now wondering how Alice Sebold managed that, was it on the page or were my temporary angel wings an assumption in my mind?
Joyce Carol Oates admits that for many it is "simply too sugary a confection to swallow" but, taking all that out of the equation, I suspect that for as many again, especially if you've been through a traumatic family bereavement (actually aren't all family bereavements traumatic?) this book could be a source of great comfort in that excruciatingly painful aftermath. It hurts,actually physically hurts, but when asked where, it's almost impossible for the bereaved person to define.
Alice Sebold offers a new perspective, a different way of thinking about death, making belief in an afterlife perfectly possible, infinitely preferable and ultimately reassuring without necessarily holding onto a religious belief, and I don't think that route should be denied anyone wracked by grief who seeks it, wherever they may look for it.
Especially so if just one person is spared the agony of living a lifetime of this, here's what Susie's father was enduring,
"Every day he got up. Before sleep wore off, he was who he used to be. Then as his consciousness woke, it was as if poison seeped in. At first he couldn't even get up. He lay there under a heavy weight. But then only movement could save him, and he moved and he moved and he moved, no movement being enough to make up for it. The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you."
Alice Sebold shows how to let go and for many The Lovely Bones will be a life-saver, whether you love or loath this book that has to be the ultimate accolade.