Well, that was fast. After stumbling for awhile but then experiencing a renewed vigor (see yesterday’s post), I finished The Virgin Suicides today. I can’t say that it is my favourite novel of all time, or that it will even replace Middlesex as my favourite Eugenides novel, but it was quite different and unique. The narrators’ voice, as I mentioned yesterday, is so distinct and unlike anything I’ve encountered in literature (notice where that apostrophe falls in the word narrators’ and you’ll understand why), and it was interesting to live inside the mind of men, and retrospectively of teenage boys, for awhile. It was a new experience for me to see young girls from a male perspective, to actually feel what is behind that male gaze they speak about so often in literature classes.
I have to say, the end of the story was definitely much more engrossing than the beginning. The climax comes at the very end, in the last 40 pages, in my opinion. Cecilia’s suicide, while the precursor to all of the other events of the story, is not the main event itself, or even the event we as readers are interested in and clutching after. Her four sisters don’t end their lives until much later in the novel, and so the anticipation does build until the reader can barely stand it any longer. At that point, Eugenides is knowing enough to let his characters die…he understands the exact right time to do this so as to keep the reader hooked until the very end. So, as I’ve said before and will undoubtedly say again, Eugenides is a brilliant writer, and even if I didn’t love this book, I respect just how well he treated his subject and just how intimately he seems to know his characters.
This isn’t a novel for the weak-hearted or squeamish, however. It is a tragedy unlike any other because it is just so strange and unsettling. It left me with a really weird feeling: the sense that I had invaded the lives of these girls (like the slightly perverted and overly obsessed narrators did), but also that I would never fully understand them. It’s a tragic mystery, with female characters that aren’t at all transparent (a huge success for literature, really!). I don’t have any idea who I would recommend it to – a vigilant reader who can persevere through drier moments, no doubt, but I still can’t say for sure what literary preferences this ideal reader would need to possess.
So yes, I’m confused, probably more than when I watched the movie years ago. I don’t think the novel gave me any more profound understanding of the story…but then again, it certainly can’t hurt to have read it!
Girl with a Green (and Unsettled) Heart