Sebold reaches into the deepest recesses of our hearts, tapping into our greatest fears and exploring some of life’s most plaguing and unsolved questions. A breathtaking novel.
The opening of this novel and the rape/murder scene that quickly ensues was possibly one of the most horrific things I have ever read. I really don’t say this lightly, I literally had to keep picking the book up and putting it down again every few words.
That said I’m very pleased that I decided to push through and persevere with the novel because what subsequently followed was a highly moving and deeply emotive insight into how one families life could become irrevocably shattered and destroyed.
Susie Salmon’s family are, on paper, your typical American family; three children, a mother, father and a dog. But when one day Susie fails to return home from school their greatest fear is realised; their little girl has been taken away and she might never come back.
In graphic, real, and emotionally hard-hitting detail Sebold describes how Susie is lured into a man-made den, raped and then murdered by her seemingly innocent next door neighbour Mr Harvey. At this point I must say to anyone who hasn’t read the book that I’m really not giving anything away; this all happens very early on and it’s what follows after that gives the novel it’s true heart.
Susie describes her final moments before she is transported to heaven, a place where she can see and hear all that takes place on earth but where she can no longer participate in the real world. She is like a girl frozen in time.
It is from here that she takes the reader along on her journey of discovering heaven, learning the true meaning of death, and although remaining suspended in time, growing and becoming wise to the intricate realities of human relationships and the tenuous bonds that tie them.
She must spend her days mourning their pain and watching as they struggle to move on, whilst herself trying to come to terms with the reality that her life was cruelly snatched from her at such a tender age. So many of life’s most precious experiences will never, she realizes, be felt or enjoyed by her.
Her family falls apart and her sister and father each become determined to find her killer who they believe, but cannot prove, is their eccentric neighbour Mr Harvey.
One of the most touching and endearing relationships in the novel is the one that exists between Susie and her youngest brother Buckley who struggles to comprehend the full concept of death and the idea that Susie is truly gone. He reveals to his best friend that secretly he stills see’s Susie and that she privately visits him; Susie is horrified, has her constant shadowing of her family meant that inadvertently she has revealed herself to them?
The novel carries on in this vain throughout, charting the unimaginable pain that follows such a tragedy. And yet Sebold always delivers fresh idea’s and seems to leave no stone unturned in her quest to fully understand death and it’s consequences.
What I found particularly harrowing but moving was Sebold’s speculative interpretation of heaven. Susie comes to realise that she is actually in a place that is like an in-between. Certainly she is no longer on earth but she also has not fully moved. Her constant watching and caring for her family and her subsequent inability to understand her murder seems to keep her in this limbo and the effect can be painful to observe. As the novel wore on I found myself urging Susie to accept her fate and move away from her vigilant observations of earth.
But off course there is one key moment that must happen in order for Susie to move on and I’m keeping my lips sealed on this. What I will say is that I was moved by Sebold’s expression of how life on earth can contain precious moments of heaven that even the after life cannot offer and it is when Susie realises this that I felt most deeply for her.
So what did everyone else think of this book? Did it deeply touch you? Were you left blown away by the concept of the book? Or did you actually not enjoy it? I’d love to hear your reactions.