The Virgin Suicides - Recorded Book, Novel, & Soundtrack Review

The Virgin Suicides- a good... if a little disturbing... read!
The Virgin Suicides- a good... if a little disturbing... read!
I approached The Virgin Suicides, originally a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, in a very roundabout manner- first through the motion picture soundtrack, then through the motion picture, and finally to the book, which I listened to on my iPod.  Below I’ll share my thoughts on the book in general, as well as the recorded book specifically (and a bit on the film score for good measure).

The Premise

For those of you who have not encountered the various iterations of this story out there, The Virgin Suicides is an account of the five Lisbon Girls- teenage sisters who, under the stifling eye of their mother (and frustrating inactivity of their father), slowly proceed toward inevitable, untimely deaths.

The story is one of seduction, fascination, voyeurism, and myth, and addresses both the strange nature of being young as well as the way we regard beauty, decay, and sex within American culture.

The Draw

What drew me to The Virgin Suicides more than anything- and ultimately what made the whole reading (or in my case, listening) experience compelling- is the story's mythical nature.  In a very unique way, The Virgin Suicides is a modern-day ghost story- one about a cluster of souls that throughout the book is never quite alive, never quite dead, but rather on a different plane entirely.

Thoughts on the Book

At first, I found the book to be very off-putting.  It takes some time to adjust to the collective "we" of the never-named narrators, and the obsessive nature with which these boys / men / unnamed observers regard the Lisbon Girls is a bit disturbing.  The fetishistic detail into which the narrator(s) go when describing the girls makes my stomach turn.

Between the descriptions of yellow eyes, eyes turning black with death, dorsal softness, blackened bottoms of unwashed feet, crusty eyes, "fructifying flesh," spotted tampons, "blue febrile eyes," and the "effluvia of so many young girls becoming women in the same cramped space," I found myself half wanting to vomit and half wanting to read more.

Indeed, the novel is brimming with disturbing imagery, yet the interesting thing is it is presented in an incredibly compelling, seductive manner.  In fact, the saturated, in-depth descriptions are what make The Virgin Suicides so powerful.  Reading this book is like watching a slow motion train wreck through a rose-colored microscope.

The detail is another compelling aspect of The Virgin Suicides.  Acting as an odd combination of investigatory journalist, stalker, and religious historian, the narrator(s) are able to provide information that no single traditional source could offer.  Artifacts belonging to the Lisbon girls are curated and preserved in an old tree house and amongst the quasi-priest-narrators, hospital records and psychiatric reports have been uncovered, press stories have been clipped, countless individuals have been interviewed, and the personal memories of the narrators themselves are described at length.  It is ridiculous to imagine that so much attention would be given to these girls, but the diversity of information presented in the book and in its supplementary exhibits deepens readers' comprehension of the obsession surrounding the suicidal teens.

There are also interesting motifs, or at least certain objects and themes, that are referred to over and over.  Fish flies, for example, play a prominent role in the story, as do laminated pictures of the Virgin Mary, dying elm trees, and suburban decay.  These motifs add depth and a sense of inevitability to the story, as they are inherently associated with the Lisbon Girls and their destiny (or so the narration makes it seem).

The Lisbon Girls are at once victims, goddesses, ghosts, sirens, sex symbols, and everyday teenage girls.  I have never read anyone described as Jeffrey Eugenides described these strange heroines.

The Recorded Book

The Soundtrack

Thoughts on the Recorded Book (and Film Score)

Nick Landrum does a brilliant job at reading The Virgin Suicides.  His tone adequately captures the wonder with which the narrators describe the doomed Lisbon Girls.  The voices he takes on when speaking for various characters leave something to be desired (all women sound the same), but I have been spoiled by the superhuman voice acting of Jim Dale who has read many of my favourite recorded books- nobody can hold a candle to the honourable Jim Dale.

It does not matter that the limited voices Nick Landrum  assumes for dialogue are lacking because most of The Virgin Suicides is narration anyway- and Landrum is absolutely stellar in that respect. He even sings at one point in the book, and brilliantly captures the melancholic, ephemeral undertones that make the writing tick.

The recorded book provides no extra sounds effects or music (few do, but it is something to consider), but none are really needed.  The only sound effect that would seem appropriate to me might be, at some point, the haunting sound of thousands of fish flies, swarming.

If you absolutely must have some musical accompaniment to listen to as you are either reading or listening to this book, listen to the original score by Air from the 1999 Sophia Coppola film.  It perfectly distills the feel of this story in musical form, and has a nice mixture of original soundtrack music and movie/novel quotes, and kicks off with "Playground Love" which has to be the sexiest song of all time.

If you’re listening to the recorded book on CD burned to your iPod, I recommend putting the tracks into a playlist, and interspersing them with songs from the soundtrack.  I did just that and it really set the mood.

One more note on the recorded book: Though for the most part, I think the recording offers an equivalent- if not superior- experience, however readers of the recorded book do miss out on one very important aspect of the book: the exhibits referred to throughout the text.

Is it Worth Reading?

Despite my initial reaction to the The Virgin Suicides, I believe this book is well worth reading.

One does not read The Virgin Suicides to find out what happens (that is pretty apparent) but rather to experience something rich and vivid.  Through his saturated descriptions, Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the most elusive glimpses of youth, obsession, and wonderment that most people rarely experience- or have long forgotten.  To be so transported by a book is an exquisite experience- one I would heartily recommend.

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Comments 11 comments

equealla profile image

equealla 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Jeffrey must be an exceptional writer to be able to tackle such a "gory" subject, and keeps the reader captivated. I mean, he even got them to make a movie about it! Wow.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Indeed! Though when one combines sex, youth, violence, romance, death, and good music references in one story, one's statistical chances of being picked up by Hollywood are significantly heightened!


kkalmes 6 years ago

Hello Simone, an absolutely wonderful book review... I did not read the book, but did see the movie... I would highly recommend the movie. It is a gripping journey into desperation and an almost surreal vision of the lives of these five beautiful girls spiralling into utter despair.

I was devastated by it for a long time and have not gone back to view again... it was that powerful.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

@kkalmes- you should read the book! I thought the movie was powerful too- and now that I read the book, I know where that power came from!


daryl21anthony profile image

daryl21anthony 6 years ago

I remember reading this book in high school, and I regret not actually reading it and looking through spark notes. I should really pick this book up again.


Ironracer profile image

Ironracer 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Great hub! I loved the movie and thought it was brilliantly directed by Sofia Coppola (I think she's awesome!). I naively didn't even remember it being based on a book! I'll have to check out the book now...sounds like a great read.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks Ironracer! I'm a total Sofia Coppola fan myself- she's amazing with music and imagery. I can totally see why this book snagged her though- it's positively dripping! Definitely check it out.


Ironracer profile image

Ironracer 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Cool. Lost in Translation is one of my favorite movies - you're right, great music and imagery! I'll check out the book.


Alison Dittmar profile image

Alison Dittmar 6 years ago from PA

Simone, the movie freaked me out- but my daughters loved it! ha.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

I think the movie is supposed to be disturbing!


Tara McNerney profile image

Tara McNerney 4 years ago from Washington, DC

I'm totally going to get this book! Thanks for the review - even your hub on it freaked me out a bit. =)

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