The Virgin Suicides

‘The Virgin Suicides’ was the debut for Jeffrey Eugenides, first published in 1993. The film adaptation by Sofia Coppola (yes, the daughter of, and her debut) is probably better known than the novel, but I have not watched it yet. This book by Eugenides is quite original and certainly enjoyable, but it took me a few months to finish it.

For some obscure reasons I have put it away and started in it again a couple of times. That’s not a good sign, but it’s certainly not a boring book. What makes it special is that you already know what is going to happen. The title of the book and the way everything is built up makes it clear from the start: five young sisters are going to commit suicide.

Most of the book is a reconstruction, told from the viewpoint of a group of boys who were living in the same neighbourhood and who went to the same school as the girls. For some reasons they are obsessed with the mysterious girls, and remain so in the next years: a large part of the story is told twenty years later, when the men are still trying to get close to the girls. They treasure all the memories and all the belongings (meticulously kept as ‘catalogue items’). They talk with people, read old newspaper articles to try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. But it soon becomes clear that they won’t reach a satisying conclusion. Various explanations and relations are suggested, both by the boys/men and by other observers, but the reader doesn’t learn the truth, perhaps he has to find it out for himself. One of the reasons is their stifling, highly religious mother, who tries to keep them away from the sinful world. One of the girls is even forced to burn her hardrock records. More medical suggestions are also made, like a lack of serotonine. Or are they too disappointed about a world, full of pollution and other worries?

Fact is that after Cecilia jumped out of the window the family and the girls can’t lead a normal life anymore, they get more and more isolated and their state seems to deteriorate, which is also illustrated by the decline of their house, which is falling apart. Perhaps this makes the girls even more mysteriously attractive, and the boys want desperately to get the attention of the girls, without much succes. Why do the other girls also make an end on their lives? Are they following the example of their sister? Can’t they live without her? Or are other (adolescent) problems or mental characteristics playing an important role too?

A book full of puzzles, with too few pieces, that also don’t seem to fit. Very special about ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is the manner in which the dramatic story is narrated. It’s not a heavy book, there is also room for lighter passages and humour, and there is a nice balance between emotion and distance. This nice piece of storytelling certainly has made me curious to read more of Eugenides. In 2002 his second novel appeared, ‘Middlesex’, a story about a girl, aged 14, who finds out that physiologically she is a hermaphrodite and more male than female. So again not an everyday story.