The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is the story of the five Lisbon sisters – beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the entire neighborhood.

The boys that once loved them from afar are now grown men, determined to understand a tragedy that has always defied explanation. For still, the question remains – why did all five of the Lisbon girls take their own lives?

This hypnotic and unforgettable novel treats adolescent love and death with haunting sensitivity and dark humor, and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time.

I read this book a few years ago and found it quite intriguing and I’ve been wanting to read it again for a while. I’m always drawn to books about sisters because I always wish that I had a lot of sisters – I have one, but I think it would be lovely if there was a big group of you.

The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the Lisbon sisters, five girls aged between thirteen and seventeen: Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia. It is set in 1970s suburban USA and narrated by a group of now grown up boys who lived in the neighbourhood and were fascinated by the Lisbon girls.

The girls live with their parents: a strict, religious mother and their quiet, high school teacher father. From photos the boys find, the girls appear to have had a relatively normal childhood until Therese was about twelve. However, as the girls grew up Mrs Lisbon became more protective and controlling, fearing the advances teenage boys may make on her daughters.

The story opens with the attempted suicide of thirteen-year-old Cecilia. She is found in the bathtub after cutting her wrists with a razor blade and is rushed to hospital. The ‘accident’ shocks the quiet suburb. Cecilia is eventually released from hospital, with the suggesting from her psychiatrist that Mrs Lisbon relax her rules a little. She allows the girls to have a party and invite some of the boys from the neighbourhood. The boys are excited by the personalised invitations they receive, handwritten by the girls and cannot wait for a chance to get closer to them.

*** SPOILERS***

The party in the Lisbon’s basement is going well, and the girls appear to be enjoying themselves until Cecilia asks to be excused. A few minutes later there is a sickening thud outside – Cecilia has jumped from her bedroom window and been impaled on some iron railings. She dies almost instantly.

Following Cecilia’s death, the Lisbon family’s relatively normal life disintegrates. Dust and old food gather in the house, the girls drift about without purpose and Mrs Lisbon withdraws to her bedroom while Mr Lisbon lives in a state of denial. However, when school starts again in the autumn the Mr Lisbon and his daughters return and continue with their lives as normal.

The school heart-throb, Trip Fontaine, falls for Lux, and persuades Mr and Mrs Lisbon to let him and his friends take their daughters to the homecoming dance on the promise that they will be home by 11pm. The evening is a success, with the girls enjoying every minute of their freedom, until Lux and Trip fail to return home on time. When Lux arrives back the next morning, Mrs Lisbon puts the girls under house arrest and stops them from going to school.

The boys’ fascination with the Lisbon girls only increases as they watch them from their bedroom windows and find ways to communicate with them. One evening they receive a note telling them to meet the girls at their house that night. Thinking that they are going to help the girls escape they quietly enter the house to meet them, only to find that the four sisters have followed in Cecilia’s footsteps. Bonnie is hanging in the basement, Therese has taken an overdose, Mary has her head in the oven and Lux has shut herself in the garage with the car engine running.

***END OF SPOILERS***

Much of the narration is the boys confused thoughts trying to work out what caused the girls to end their short lives. They try to piece together what happened with small bits of ‘evidence’ they have collected over the years, including Cecilia’s old diary and family photographs. However, they cannot piece it together and come to the conclusion that no-one will ever understand what drove the Lisbon daughters to such tragedy.

Although ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is quite depressing, I enjoy the atmosphere created and the narrative style – it sometimes jumps around a bit but this only adds to the feeling of the boys’ confusion. It is a book I will always remember and will probably buy at some point so I can add it to my collection.

4/5

We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.

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