The Virgin Suicides. What was that all about? SPOILERS(32 Posts)
I just finished The Virgin Suicides. Yes, it was very atmospheric. Yes, the author can write.
What was the point, though?
I got the feeling that it wasn't talking about some girls (individuals) & some boys (individuals) but was a bit symbolic.
Totally did not understand a word. And I have a first in English Lit.
Like you, I sensed that it was about more than some teenage girls. However, I didn't like it at all and couldn't be arsed to read up.
Will follow thread and get schooled.
And now, to use MN's new @ tool to call MNers over...
I thought it was about the male gaze and how horrible it feels to be a teenage girl being objectified. Not sure whether that was the author's actual intention or not.
I think it may have been talking about "the Lisbon girls" as a concept, and idea, as opposed to individual persons. This is because people keep confusing them, making no effort to tell them apart. Even at the end when they are all being buried, the priest (no less) says he is not sure who he buried where.
I think the girls represent youthful innocence (which is beautiful but inevitably dies) or something.
I don't think they were objectified as much as fetishised and obsessed over. They seem to be the only thing on (what passes as) the minds of local boys. No other girls are even mentioned in the book.
And the narrator keeps talking about "we", never "I", as if this book is about anyone and their flimsy hold on (and their awe in the presence of) beauty and innocence in their lives - as children, then it's gone.
I agree about the "male gaze" - I must have read it 4 years ago, but I do keep records. (Saddo ) I'll just look it up.
I haven't read this for years...so sorry if this is a bit of a stream of consciousness:
I agree that it is about the group male gaze/voyerism (watching unseen from the dark).
Couple that with nostalgia, I believe that the narrator is looking back on his boyhood obsession as an adult, but he still obsesses over the girls with the same intensity he did as a boy.
We expect youthful beauty and virginity to be ephemeral/temporary, but to the narrator (and his friends) the Lisbon girls are forever young and never tainted or imperfect.
Then there are themes of loss of identity and removal from normality, the girls almost become their own stereotypes, and their parents, in an effort to protect them, cut them further off from society making the girls more of a rare and exotic exhibit for the boys to spy on.
I guess it's a coming of age novel, where the characters don't get to come of age.
I really should read it again (though Middlesex is by far his best book).
I had a problem with the way the men clung on to mouldy makeup and rotten candles etc. WTF?
I felt that literally only Lux and Cecilia came off the page with Bonnie, Mary and Therese just homogenous "beautiful damaged girl"
I thought that not to remotely explore why either of the Lisbon parents (particularly the mother) did what they did to their children was a disservice to the reader.
I liked the descriptions and felt that you could feel cold and warm and stifled and imagine the smell based off them. I liked the prose, but the story and characterisation was problematic
Very excited to be invited to the discussion, my first time! Thanks Cote.
Now it's quite a while since I read this book so I can't remember much detail, but from what I do recall the book was about the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty. So once the girls die they are fixed as young and beautiful and don't have to suffer the indignities of age and infirmity. Perhaps this is why they killed themselves. But then over time the memories of them fade and change, and so in a way they do eventually age and lose the very qualities that they wanted to suspend by dying young?
In thinking about the book recently I also had the impression in my head that the narrator was a girl talking about obsessive boys, but from what I am reading here I guess the narrator was a boy or a few boys? Again, it is a few years since I read it.
And I guess the Lisbon girls' friends lose their innocence in one fell swoop due to the suicides, instead of "coming of age"? I'm rambling now and I will stop .
Definitely a thought provoking book! My favourite kind.
I loved it but haven't read for a fair few years.
I just found the whole thing desperately sad - girls who were damaged becoming even more damaged and the attempts to shield them from the damage actually then becoming the thing that damaged them - or something!
I thought there was a tenderness about the boys' voyeurism and a sense of being painfully and impotently unable to stop this sort of female juggernaut of pain and kind of mass hysteria, which I do think teenage girls can have a tendency towards and which in the worst cases becomes completely self destructive.
Totally agree that the girls are symbolic rather than individuals - I think they symbolise beauty and innocence and budding sensuality/sexuality. The boys yearned for all of this when the girls were alive and now, so long after the girls' deaths, the adult men are still yearning - maybe even more so now they are approaching middle age, with all the associations of lost youth/lost beauty/disappointments and so on that (inevitably?) brings.
I think as a first novel it showed enormous promise, that he hasn't really fully realised with the rambling and overstuffed follow ups of 'Middlesex' and the marriage one the title of which I've currently forgotten!
"Totally agree that the girls are symbolic rather than individuals - I think they symbolise beauty and innocence and budding sensuality/sexuality. The boys yearned for all of this when the girls were alive and now, so long after the girls' deaths, the adult men are still yearning - maybe even more so now they are approaching middle age, with all the associations of lost youth/lost beauty/disappointments and so on that (inevitably?) brings."
Yes, the end of the book makes this quite clear imho.
Can someone explain why girls got the boys organized to help them escape but committed suicide instead? While the boys were waiting for them in the house, even.
Ooh, I love this book, although haven't read it for years. I am probably wrong, but I think the Lisbon girls come across as very confused about life. They don't really know what they want or how they should be trying to live. I don't think suicide was something they were ever totally convinced about. I imagine the confusion of the boys at the end to reflect this.
" They don't really know what they want or how they should be trying to live."
As opposed to any other teenager in the world?
It was some years ago that i read it. In my ignorance I didn't see any of the symbolism others have noticed. I just thought it was a very boring story about five characterless girls and some creepy boys.
Loved being "summoned" by the way - it was a bit like that "Bat Light" or whatever it is that lets Our Hero know he's needed.
<goes off to dig out sewing machine to make a cape>
Cote I think the girls organised the boys to be there when they killed themselves because they always knew that they'd been watching them. It was like saying, "You want to watch us? Watch this." And also a way of saying - for all your obsessing and voyeurism, we always had control over what you knew and found out about us.
I loved that we remained as much in the dark as the narrator, and felt his frustration and confusion after having been drawn into the obsession over the Lisbon girls.
Yes, I think ultimately the girls quite cynically chose an audience for their 'show' knowing (and taking advantage) of the fact that they were such objects of fascination. Feel like I need to read it again though, to be able offer anything else to the conversation, as it all feels like a dim and distant memory and I've forgotten what the final section says.
Why did they not escape, though? Everything was ready for them. Boys were going to help. They had already packed.
Why kill themselves?
Maybe they knew there was no point - they'd always be found. They were under 18 IIRC and running away is a pipe dream. The only true escape was suicide. Also they're teenage girls so everything is dramatic and maybe they just couldn't see a future in which they were truly free. I could go on and on with these theories - I love a book that leaves so much to you to decide when it's well written and clearly intended.
I had a student who wrote her A Level coursework on this text, comparing it to the poetry of Duffy and The Great Gatsby. Her title was exploring the idea that ‘men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at’.
The male gaze was very much at the heart of her thesis but she also explored the way in which all three texts women are presented as being aware of this gaze, and the ways in which it is exploited and manipulated by women. She cited, for example, this line from The Virgin Suicides: ‘[the girls] had been looking out at [the boys] as intensely as [the boys] had been looking in’.
Suicide as statement, I think, with a ready made audience. A kind of romance in it? Because The Virgin Escapees doesn't have quite the same ring to it?
Love the name, Boy. Big Carter fan!
Cote I thought the 'escape' plan was only ever a rouse to get the boys into the house to witness heir death.
They had lived watched and wanted to ensure they died under the same gaze.
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