The very first page of Jeffrey Eugenides’s stunning debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, lays out the plot of the book. The Lisbon sisters, aged thirteen to seventeen, live in a small town in Michigan and are killing themselves in the house that they spend almost all their time locked up in with their parents.
It begins with 13-year-old Cecilia, who commits suicide by throwing herself out of her bedroom window, one month after her first failed attempt. The death prompts the already spartan disciplinarian Mrs Lisbon to tighten her grip further on her remaining four daughters. A year later, however, one by one they all perish at their own hands.
The hypnotic and surprisingly humorous novel is told entirely from the point of view of a group of boys from the neighbourhood who watch with horror and fascination, attempting to piece together the mysterious lives led by the girls. Always looking from the outside in, it is impossible to divine the motivation behind the suicides yet almost inevitable that the tight-knit sisterhood would follow each into the grave.
Told with an impressive balance of humour and melancholy, The Virgin Suicides is a deeply insightful book about childhood, puberty and the secrets that families keep. It was adapted into a critically-acclaimed feature film directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst, released in 1999.
The book has been praised by authors including John Banville, who called it “light as air and as dense...quietly, slyly funny, despite its melancholy subject” in a review in Observer.
The New York Times called the book “by turns lyrical and portentous, ferocious and elegiac...insinuates itself into our minds as a small but powerful opera in the unexpected form of a novel.”
Published in 1993.