The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

When the better half took me book shopping on my birthday I picked up a copy of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The novel is on my 1001 list and I really enjoyed his book, Middlesex. I started reading it the night I got it and I’ll be honest, I was completely surprised by it. Some of you may think I’m an idiot. The title says it all, it’s about suicide. What I didn’t know was that the story is told from the viewpoint of the boys who knew the five Lisbon sisters who kill themselves. I thought it would be narrated by the sisters. Instead, the boys, twenty years later start to piece together their memories and evidence to recall the sisters that they fell in love with during their youth.

The five sisters grew up in a suburb of Detroit. They were quirky and beautiful. And the boys in the neighborhood watched them all the time. In one year, they all commit suicide. As the boys recount the tragedies the reader gets to peek into the weirdness of the Lisbon family. As the rest of the families lived their lives in this quiet suburb, the Lisbon family fell further and further into a funk.

This is not like any other coming-of-age novel that I’ve read. Eugenides is a brilliant writer. He mixes sensitivity and dark humor. As I read this novel, I felt like I was watching an episode of 48 Hours Mystery. I love that show. The author doesn’t let you inside the Lisbon home completely, but gives enough glimpses via the boys memories to keep the reader wanting more. This is Eugenides debut novel and he knocked it out of the park.

I haven’t watched the film adaptation by Sofia Coppola. Does anyone suggest it?

This is the 76th novel that I’ve completed from the 1001 list.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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60 Responses to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. Sounds like another good one I have to look for. There are too many good books to read lately aren’t there? It just seems like there are far more to choose from nowadays than there were like 20 years ago, don’t you think?

    • TBM says:

      Well I am a fan of the classics so that is a difficult point for me to argue. I think now that I follow book blogs I’m realizing how many books are out there and I haven’t even heard of them. It does make problems with my TBR piles and checkbook, but somehow I am persevering.

      • I know. I think my problem is that I like so many different genres. If I could just stick to one type, maybe my TBR pile wouldn’t be so huge. The variety is nice though.

      • TBM says:

        I’m starting to dislike the word genre. As long as the story is good, I just don’t care what you call it.

      • Very good point. I like the way you think :).

      • TBM says:

        I like labeling turns people off from certain books. I never used to read science fiction and now I love it.

      • Yes, we should never limit ourselves. I mean a great author can make any subject matter interesting can’t they? I read pretty much anything, and I decide based on what frame of mind I’m in. If my life is crazy busy at the time I will often pick a lighter read to rest my brain, while other times when my brain is just itching to be exercised I will pick a heavy historical novel or a complex and mind boggling fantasy. I love them all :).

      • TBM says:

        A complex and mind boggling fantasy. Can you name a few?

      • I keep telling you – A Discovery of Witches!! It has history, science, and fantasy. It’s the whole shebang! I also love the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. It’s phenomenal. I think I’m up to the 4th book, but I always take a break in between. Not under the fantasy category but one of my favourite series of all time is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. If you haven’t read that yet, it’s a definite must! I would love to hear what you think of it :). Today I just started a YA fantasy series from that author talk I went to last week, and from what I hear it’s excellent. The first one is called Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and it looks quite interesting.

      • TBM says:

        I don’t remember you saying they were complicated and mind-boggling or did I just miss that. I’ve been keeping an eye out for the Witches book, but haven’t spied a copy yet. I won’t give up! For some reason Pillars of the Earth intimidates me. I’m glad you like the new series.

      • pillars of the earth is long, but an easy read. i remember it as being straightforward historical fiction, a real page-turner with well-drawn characters and an interesting plot. go for it!

      • TBM says:

        That’s good to know! Thanks!

      • Oh, please don’t let Pillars of the Earth intimidate you. It’s such a wonderful story with awesome characters and so much history. I really think you would love it! As for Discovery of Witches, the author is an incredibly smart woman. Wikipedia says “She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College (B.A., 1986), Northwestern University (M.A., 1990), and the University of California at Davis (Ph.D., 1994). Harkness also studied abroad at Oxford University. She is a well-regarded historian of science and medicine, as well as having studied alchemy, magic and the occult”. So, it may be fantasy, but it is a very thought provoking and well thought out story.

      • TBM says:

        LOL, you already sold me on the witches book and author. I just need to locate a copy. But I do like your sells pitch! I should hire you for the release of my novel 🙂 Of course I may get a big head. That would be a first. I have the tiniest head. Actually I can wear a kid’s size baseball hat.

      • Ooh, I would get everyone to buy your book oh yee of the small head LOL!!

      • TBM says:

        Can that be my new title?

  2. I saw this in the library but for whatever reason, didn’t take it out that time. Maybe I’ll have to reconsider and give it a go.

    • TBM says:

      I couldn’t put it down. Did you read Middlesex by him? that’s another great one, but longer.

      • No, I don’t think I have. I remember The Virgin Suicides looked interesting but maybe I was feelign a bit tired and down and took something out to make me laugh instead but now I’m intrigued. Oh I do miss the public library in Bexhill – I have to rely on the very few Charity Shops 60km away for new English books at the moment and they are mainly of the “easy beach reading” type which is ok, but not all the time. Have just read The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney which I can highly recommend!

      • TBM says:

        Beach reads are good, but not all of the time. of course I read books by Austen as a beach read. Haven’t heard of the Penney book, but will look it up. I’m always on the hunt for a good book.

  3. Robin says:

    I’ve seen the film but not read the book (which is highly unusual, especially since I really liked Middlesex.) The film was… odd. But the story is odd, so that’s to be expected, I happened to see it as a free movie on Hulu.

    • TBM says:

      I loved Middlesex. I’ve read it twice and will have to reread it for my 50 year project. I’m looking forward to the reread. His writing style is different, but very engaging. I bet the movie is odd. I should watch it soon while the book is still fresh in my mind. I have the worst memory.

  4. Ingrid D. says:

    I haven’t read the book but I did watch the movie and I liked it.

  5. nrlymrtl says:

    I read Middlesex years ago and it was incredibly good – and not what I was expecting at all. I saw the film The Virgin Suicides in college, well over a decade ago, back when I didn’t know it was based on a book. I don’t remember enough of it to say whether or not it is worthy of watching. But I will be keeping an eye out for the book at my library based on your review.

    • TBM says:

      I hope your library has it. I think you’d like the dark humor in it. It’s different from Middlesex, but still a brilliant read.

  6. The book is spectacular. The movie is very good. It can’t delve as deeply as the book, of course, but Coppola. Kirsten Dunst is extraordinary.

  7. thx for this. i’ve read (and enjoyed) middlesex but nothing else by this author. i’m adding this to me to-buy list.

    how did you select the books for your list?

    • TBM says:

      I’m using the list from the book 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die edited by Peter Boxall. I haven’t read Eugenides’s latest book, The Marriage Plot yet, but I do own it. I think that one came out last year.

  8. Vishy says:

    Nice review, TBM! I have read one book by Eugenides – ‘The Marriage Plot’ – and I liked it. Eugenides prose was very beautiful. I haven’t read it his other two books, but I hope to, some day. I have avoided ‘The Virgin Suicides’ because of the title and the theme of the book, but now that you have said that Eugenides has hit the ball out of the park, I want to read it now 🙂 I have seen Sophia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’ many times and love it. I am sure she did a wonderful job of bringing Eugenides’ book to the screen. I wish she made more movies – like one every year 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I thought Virgin Suicides would be extremely depressing. Don’t get me wrong, there are sad parts, but overall I was fascinated by the story and by his writing. Having the boys tell the story was pure genius. I haven’t read The Marriage Plot yet, but I picked up a copy of the book last year. And I haven’t seen Lost in Translation so I need to add that to my rental list. Thanks Vishy!

  9. The Hook says:

    The end is in sight, buddy!
    Great work so far!

  10. That is interesting that the book was written from not only that point of view but also with that much distance from the events. It is an interesting way to show how the girls’ deaths effected them over the course of time, I imagine, rather than dealing with the raw, in-the-moment feelings that might not only be really uncomfortable to read but also be less impactful.

    • TBM says:

      Exactly. You get a better sense of what happened since you don’t have to wade through the tears and grief. And it’s powerful since the boys, even 20 years later, still mourn their loss and are still baffled by it.

      • Not having read it this is only my conjecture, but I would also think the distance would lend a surreal feeling to the mystery that still plagues these men who don’t understand fully why this happened.

      • TBM says:

        Absolutely. This technique is pure genius. And for a first novel, that blows me away.

  11. Carol says:

    I watched the movie, but to be honest I don’t remember much about it.

  12. I really enjoyed The Virgin Suicides although I think Middlesex is probably my favourite Eugenides book.

  13. lynnsbooks says:

    I have seen the film although I can’t completely remember it to be honest so not sure whether to recommend it. I do seem to recall that I came away completely perplexed about exactly was going on with the girls. I think I’d like the book from the sound of your review.
    Lynn 😀

  14. Had no idea that film was Sophia Coppola’s. I loved Lost in Translation, but avoided Virgin Suicides because of the subject matter. May have to give the book a try.

    • TBM says:

      I gave the book a stiff forearm for many years for the same reason. I’m glad I finally picked it up. Nothing like I thought it would be.

  15. blueberriejournal says:

    I didn’t like the novel at all. Somehow I had expected something different. I think what bothered me most was in fact the narrators point of view. Somehow I missed the voice of the girls…
    I didn’t watched the movie although it was directed by Sophia Coppola and I loved Lost in Translation.

    • TBM says:

      I can see why you would be disappointed by the book. I liked his technique, but you don’t hear much from the girls, that’s true.

  16. I have always wanted to read it.. now I know I should! Thanks 🙂

  17. Caroline says:

    I haven’t read the book yet but the movie, as are all of Coppoloa’s is one of my very favourites. I LOVE the music by Air and well, pretty much anything else. I was relcutant to read the book because of that, I thought it might be a let down.

    • TBM says:

      Now I need to watch the film and others by her. so many have raved about Coppola. I loved the book, but I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t say if it doesn’t compare.

  18. I found the movie to be quite haunting, but I have not read the book. I really must add it to my Amazon wishlist. I wasn’t aware that Sophia Coppola direct it, so now that’s all the more reason for me to love the movie.

    • TBM says:

      I never realized how many people love Coppala. I have to admit I haven’t paid too much attention, but I will now. I’m glad I mentioned that bit in the post since I learned something.

  19. Tracey says:

    I’ve seen the film, but I was a teenager at the time and was quite traumatized by it! As an adult I think it would be a totally different experience, but I kind of want to read the book first now.

    • TBM says:

      I can imagine it would be quite an experience for a teenager. It’s not the typical coming of age story. I highly recommend the book!

  20. i think the movie is worth the watch. i thought it was very well done

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