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Grammath 29th March 2006 02:28 PM


Last night at the pub quiz regularly attended by myself, Bill and Deinonychus (remember him?), there was a round of soundtrack clips including a snippet from the excellent French band Air's score for the movie version of this beautifully written and highly evocative novel, a book I'm surprised does not yet have its own thread.


It is several years since I read this tale of the demise of the five Lisbon sisters, but the main thing that stays with me is the carefully created atmosphere of the book. The unnamed male narrator is relating the story of events from his teenage years, a time when girls were still exotic, mysterious creatures to him, years later. The air of nostalgia makes the sleepy suburb where these events take place seem idyllic; equally the sisters are also idealised. The sad events mean the book is saturated in melancholy too, but for lost innocence as much as the tragedy of these lives cut short.


This makes the book sound depressing; its certainly dark but poignant, mesmerising and lyrical are much more suitable words.


An impressive debut novel and, alongside Rick Moody's criminally under-rated "The Ice Storm", one of the great depictions of mid-'70s suburban America.




Starry 30th March 2006 01:29 PM


I read this a couple of years ago and agree that it is beautifully written. I particularly liked the languidness of the tale - his attention to detail drew out the story making two months seem like 20 years which fitted perfectly with the plot and the sense that time had no meaning to the sisters.


I was a little uncomfortable reading about the invasion of privacy and the sheer obsessiveness. (Exactly how many boys were obsessed? It seemed like the whole school!) But everything helped to paint the picture and there was nothing unnecessary.


Made me seek out his other book, Middlesex, and I wasn't disappointed.




Flingo 31st March 2006 09:21 PM


I, too, read this a few years ago. I also watched the film, which I seem to recall was quite a good adaptation.


I can't remember very much about it, but have an image of a white house with trees outside it as my first thought that relates to it.


I read it in a couple of hours and was impressed by the writing style.


I am tempted to look out Middlesex. and add it to the ever growing mountain!

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  • 10 months later...


I agree with all of you and found the book absolutely haunting and poignant.


I own MIDDLESEX but have not reached it in my TBR columns. Readers I trust have reported they really liked this one too.


So far Eugenides stays on the A list. :)




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  • 1 year later...

There is a strong sense of longing through the story - for the Lisbon sisters and I suppose for the narrator's youth. It made me feel quite claustrophic which is perhaps how the sisters felt and why they escaped as they did.


I think the saddest part is the lack of understanding of the girls by their parents. They were probably trying to protect them as parents do, but eventually caused more harm. When I first started the book, because of their parents' attitudes, I thought the book was set in the '50s or '60s and then realised it was actually set in the '70s.


A sad story but with some humourous moments.


I am off to track down Middlesex now....

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  • 6 years later...

This book was saved by its exemplary prose. As Grammath said, poignant, lyrical and mesmerizing. And the humor helped, but only the sweet humor. The black humor really didn't work very well, because it was at odds with the sensitivity and sweetness of the narrator(s). But therein lies one of my bigger problems with this novel. I just don't see heterosexual male teenagers, especially a group of them, having that sort of sensitivity and sweetness. There certainly weren't any in the suburban American neighborhood that I grew up in during the 70s. So it felt false on that level. And it felt false as regards the girls' parent's, particularly Mrs Lisbon's, ability to inflict that public of a level of criminal neglect upon the girls after Cecilia's suicide. Where were the truant officers and the child protection workers during the Lisbon girls' second incarceration in that suburban dungeon of a house? The storyline seemed melodramatic and forced and even exploitive. A singular narrator would have been better, and either a different setting or a better researched and plotted storyline would have helped the believability of the novel. Or a deeply acidic, black humored take on these events. Things just didn't mesh for me, and, despite the meta fictional conceit of an after the fact investigation into the Lisbon sister's suicides, I almost never forgot that I was reading a made up story. And a horrifically tragic, and mind numbingly depressing one at that. So that I was left wondering what was the point of it all? "Bad stuff happens and no one really knows why" is not really a valid basis for a novel.

I'm really glad Eugenides used his superb writing talents to a better advantage in 'The Marriage Plot', which I thought was an excellent novel.

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