The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

January 5, 2010 § 10 Comments


“We Greeks are a moody people. Suicide makes sense to us. Putting up Christmas lights after your own daughter does it – that makes no sense. What my ‘yia yia’ could never understand about America was why everyone pretended to be happy all the time.”

The Virgin Suicides starts with a suicide case. We are told that Mary is the last of the Lisbon girls to take her own life. From the description of how the paramedics act on the scene, we know that they have been to the Lisbon house on many occasions prior to this, when the other Lisbon daughters committed their own acts of prematurely ending their lives.

Rewind the tape, and we are now taken back to when the first suicide happened. Cecilia, the youngest daughter, tries to kill herself by slitting both her wrists while in the bathtub. Her attempt is unsuccessful, and she is brought to the hospital where she is promptly brought back to life.

Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under her chin, he said, ‘What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.’

And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: ‘Obviously, Doctor,’ she said, ‘you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.’

Why did she commit suicide? And why, even after being saved and brought for counselling, did she try again? (She succeeded this time.)

But the core of the story revolves around the lives of the remaining sisters and their parents. In a family so strict and bound by unbending rules set by their mother, how did the girls survive this family tragedy, their loss of their youngest sister?

The whole story is told in such a way that when I was reading it, I felt like I was watching a dramatic documentary. The narrators are themselves boys who witnessed this tragedy unfold, and were then obsessed about the remaining Lisbon girls. Now, when they are older and probably middle-aged, and after having ‘researched’ bits and pieces of the suicides, they tell us the story.

Teenage suicide was explored in the story to some extent, but not really with much depth. There was also a little bit of mention on religion.

Cremation enjoyed a rise in popularity. Mrs. Lisbon, however, objected to this idea, fearing it was heathen, and even pointed to a biblical passage that suggested the dead will rise bodily at the Second Coming, no ashes allowed.


On the West Side they visited a quiet cemetry in the Palestinian section, but Mr. Lisbon didn’t like the foreign sound of the muezzin calling the people to prayer, and had heard that the neighbors still ritually slaughtered goats in their bathtubs.

The book was mainly about the everyday things brought to life. For me at least, it felt like a poetic narration of the ordinary (however ordinary it can possibly be, considering that someone just committed suicide.) It’s a relatively short book, compared to Middlesex, so I’m really keen on reading that one soon.

Rating: 4.5



The Movie (1999)

I made sure to wait at least a day after finishing the book before watching the movie, and I wrote my thoughts on the book before trying the movie out, just so they don’t cross each other out too much.

The movie has Kirsten Dunst playing Lux, one of the Lisbon girls, who also is the most outgoing and coy of the lot. I would say Dunst played the role pretty well, but other than that, I felt the movie was quite bland, and didn’t quite have the magic that the book did.

Would I have enjoyed the movie more if I hadn’t just read the book? I doubt it. Overall, the movie itself just wasn’t that great.

For: Read the Book See the Movie Challenge


§ 10 Responses to The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

  • cbjames says:

    I had the same reaction to the movie that you did. I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I’ve avoided the book since then but maybe I should give it a try. Your review of it intrigues me and I’ve basically forgotten the movie. I saw it in the theatres back when it first came out.

  • mee says:

    Middlesex is my favorite book so I’m bound to read this book soon or later (hopefully soon). I already have a copy on my shelf. I’m feeling optimistic :D. I’ve been looking forward to the movie too (reserved for after the book, of course)

  • I bought the book impulsively, as the cover said something about it being the modern-day Catcher In The Rye. I did enjoy reading the book, and quite liked the narrative being in a collective “we”. The story didn’t really speak to me as much as I would’ve liked though.

    I haven’t seen the movie, but, I do like the soundtrack. Magic Man is a totally cool song!!

    I’m hoping to read Middlesex soon, and after hearing you & Jackie (Farm Lane Books) rave about it, I can’t wait!

  • su says:

    @ James: I do hope you try this book. I enjoyed it a lot.

    @ mee: Definitely looking forward to your thoughts on it when you read it. And myself having my own copy of Middlesex, I’m excited about reading it too.

    @ anothercookie: Yes, the soundtrack is one of its redeeming factors, actually.

  • Whitney says:

    I read Middlesex last year and had a hard time getting through it, so have stayed away from The Virgin Suicides. I caught the movie on t.v. a few years ago and was interesting enough to hold my attention. I thinking I should put aside any prejudices towards this author and give him another try.

  • su says:

    @ Whitney: If you liked the movie, maybe you’ll like the book? It’s interesting though, to see that you found Middlesex difficult to get through, because I’ve heard so many good things about it! I guess we can’t all like the same books, now can we?

    Thanks for dropping by.

  • Mark David says:

    Sounds poignantly tragic. I remember watching parts of the movie adaptation on HBO several years ago, and I think I get what you mean by it looking bland. Perhaps they did it that way so that the audience would get an idea of how bleak life looks to a teenager contemplating suicide. That’s how it struck me, at least.

    It’s quite sad, isn’t it, that children that young can already find themselves hating life and wishing that it simply ends 😦

  • su says:

    @ Mark David: Quite tragic. But I think I felt the emotion a lot more through the book than watching the movie. It wasn’t just bleak, it was almost unbelievably slow.

    But yes. Sometimes it does get rather depressing to know how some very young people just don’t want to live their lives anymore. Sometimes I wonder if it’s society’s fault. But then again, we can’t very well go blaming the society for everything that happens..

  • jehara says:

    i saw the movie first years ago. i enjoyed it but also felt confused by it. i am someone who can watch a movie based on a book, and if i find the movie lacking something, it makes me want to read the book that much more to find out what is missing. i eventually found my way to the book and liked the book much better. and as previous commenters have stated, i agree that the soundtrack is pretty awesome.

  • su says:

    @ jehara: Thanks for stopping by. The book is definitely way better than the movie, and yes, the soundtrack did give the movie some redeeming points.

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