Trigger warning: suicide, death
30 years ago, on the 1st of April 1993, one of the most captivating insights into the struggles of being a teenage girl was released to the public. Despite being written by a man, Jeffery Eugenides manages to so acutely read into the psyche of teenage girls and all their dilemmas and problems which are so often trivialised. Set in suburban Michigan in the 70s, the novel follows the Lisbon sisters, Lux, Mary, Cecilia, Therese and Bonnie and the series of events that led to their untimely deaths. The book was adapted into a highly popular film, directed by Sofia Coppola, 6 years later and both versions of the tragedy remain prolific today.
I only read this book for the first time a month ago and was struck by how different it was than my expectations. Whilst the premise of the story remained the same as I imagined, I was not expecting the narration to come from outside of the girls’ house. This change in perspective is for me what made the book so beautiful and twisted. Every time that you as a reader managed to catch a glimpse of the girl’s true existence, a curtain was drawn across the window into their lives or a door was slammed shut. Whilst you consistently empathised with each girl and their struggles in turn, you could only view them through the eyes of another biased imposer in their lives.
The girls are essentially trapped within their repressive and strict home by their parents, leading them to become sort of enigmatic presences out in the wider society of the town. The first to die is the youngest Cecelia who, after a first attempt, succeeds in jumping out of her family house’s window to her
death. Cecelia is where this morbid curiosity we have with the girls begins. A small child who perpetually wears a wedding dress is bound to spark conversation after bringing to the forefront of conversation, the cracks within suburbia and girlhood.
It is through the reaction of the parents who worry for them, the boys that crush on them and the classmates that envy them, that we try and piece together the isolated lives of the Lisbon sisters. A harrowing discussion of adolescence, isolation, unrequited love, the human psyche and societal pressures, The Virgin Suicides should be approached with caution due to its harrowing themes however it provides a startlingly beautiful insight into the meaning and purpose of life.
Below is the trailer for Coppola’s adaptation of the haunting novel (via, YouTube):