The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones

infobox Book |
name = The Lovely Bones
orig title =
translator =

author = Alice Sebold
cover_artist = Yoori Kim (design); Daniel Lee (photo-illustration)
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Little, Brown
release_date = 2002
media_type = Print (Hardback and Paperback); audio book
pages = 328 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-316-66634-3
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Lovely Bones" is a 2002 novel by Alice Sebold. It is the story of a teenage girl who, after being brutally raped and murdered, watches from heaven as her family and friends go on with their lives, while she herself comes to terms with her own death. The novel received a great deal of critical praise and became an instant bestseller.

A film adaptation of the novel is currently in production and is being directed by Peter Jackson, who personally purchased the rights.

Plot introduction

In 1973, a 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon is raped, murdered, and dismembered by a neighbor. Over the next few years she watches from a personalized heaven as her family and friends deal with their grief. She sometimes becomes angry and frustrated from the choices her family makes while looking over them.

Explanation of the novel's title

The novel's title stems from a line towards the end of the novel, in which Susie ponders her friends' and family's newfound strength after her death:

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life.

Plot summary

On December 6, 1973 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Susie Salmon takes a shortcut home from school. She is accosted by a neighbor, George Harvey, a man in his mid-30s who lives alone and builds dollhouses for a living. He persuades her to enter an underground den he has recently built nearby. Once she enters, he rapes her, stabs her to death, then he cuts her body into parts which are later dumped in a sinkhole. An elbow, the only part of Susie ever to be found, falls out of his bag as he returns home, disposing of the remaining parts of the body by putting them in a safe and paying someone to drop it. Meanwhile, Susie's spirit flees toward her personal heaven.

The Salmon family is at first reluctant to accept that Susie has been killed, but then accedes when Susie's hat and elbow are found. The police who talk to Mr. Harvey find him odd but see no reason to suspect him. Jack, Susie's father, becomes suspicious and later comes to harass the police about Harvey. Susie's sister Lindsey comes to share these suspicions. Jack, consumed with guilt over not having been able to protect his daughter, remains on extended leave from work and increasingly isolates himself at home. Buckley, the youngest child in the family of four, tries to make sense of all this as he starts school.

One day late in the summer a detective named Len Fenerman comes to tell the Salmons that the police have exhausted all leads and are dropping the investigation. That night in his study, Jack looks out the window and sees a flashlight in the cornfield. Believing it to be Harvey returning to destroy evidence, he runs out to confront him with a baseball bat. It turns out to be Susie's best friend, Clarissa, and her boyfriend Brian looking for a place to make out. Brian and Jack struggle and Jack is struck with the bat. As a result he has to have knee replacement surgery. In the wake of this, his wife Abigail begins having an affair with Fenerman, who is a widower. The following summer Abigail leaves her husband, going to her father's old cabin in New Hampshire and then moving to California, taking a job at a winery. As a result her mother, Grandma Lynn, moves into the Salmons' home to help her son-in-law care for Buckley and Lindsey.

Still suspicious, Lindsey sneaks into Harvey's house and finds a drawing of the pit and is forced to leave when Harvey returns prematurely. Sensing threat, Harvey leaves Norristown as soon as possible and becomes a drifter. A year later the police bulldoze the cornfield and turn up a soda bottle from the night of the murder with Harvey's and Susie's fingerprints, finally making him an official suspect. However, he remains at large. That fall, a hunter in Connecticut discovers the body of another one of Harvey's victims, and one of Susie's charms nearby. In 1981, a detective in Connecticut links the charm to Susie's murder and calls Fenerman. As they uncover further evidence, the police realize that Harvey is a serial killer.

Lindsey and her boyfriend Samuel Heckler become engaged, find an old house in the woods owned by a classmate's father, and decide to fix it up and live there. Sometime after the celebration, while arguing with his son, Jack suffers from a heart attack. The emergency prompts Abigail to return from California, but the reunion is tempered by Buckley's lingering bitterness at her for having abandoned him and his father.

Meanwhile, Harvey returns to Norristown, which has become more developed. He explores his old neighborhood and notices the school is being expanded into the cornfield where he murdered Susie. He drives by the sinkhole where Susie's body rests, and where Ruth Connors and Ray Singh are standing. Ruth, an old classmate of Susie's who had felt Susie's spirit go past her after her murder, senses the women Harvey has killed and is overcome. Susie, watching from heaven, is also overwhelmed with emotion and the two girls exchange positions. Susie, her spirit now in Ruth's body, kisses Ray, who had a crush on Susie in school, and they go to the back room in Hal Heckler's (the older brother of Lindsey's boyfriend Samuel) bike shop to make love. Afterwards, Susie returns to heaven.

She moves onto the larger heaven, still watching earthbound events from time to time. She sees her sister's newborn baby girl, who is named Abigail Suzanne. One day she spies Harvey getting off a Greyhound bus at a diner in New Hampshire in early spring. Behind the diner he sees a young woman and attempts to speak to her, but she rebuffs him. Susie notices some large icicles hanging from the roof, and after the woman leaves, one falls and hits Harvey on the head, knocking him into a nearby ravine and ultimately killing him.

The novel ends with Susie showing us Lindsey's newborn daughter, then tracking away to a newer house where a man has finally found Susie's old charm bracelet. "This little girl's grown up by now," his wife says. "Almost. Not quite," Susie's narrative voice rejoins. "I wish you all a long and happy life."


*Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who is raped, murdered and dismembered in the first chapter, and narrates the novel from heaven.
*Jack Salmon, her father, who works for an insurance agency in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
*Abigail Salmon, her mother, whose growing family frustrated her youthful dreams and soon later has an affair with Detective Len Fenerman whose wife committed suicide.
*Lindsey Salmon, Susie's sister, a year younger than she is, thought of as the smartest
*Buckley Salmon, Susie's brother, ten years younger than she is. His unplanned birth forced Abigail to cancel her plans for a teaching career. He sometimes sees Susie while she watches him in her heaven.
*Grandma Lynn, Abigail's mother, who comes to live with her son-in-law and grandchildren after her daughter leaves.
*George Harvey, the Salmons' neighbor, who kills Susie and goes unpunished even though the Salmons come to suspect him, then leaves Norristown to kill again. Throughout the novel she refers to him as Mr. Harvey, the name she had addressed him by in life.
*Ruth Connors, a friend of Susie's, whom her dead spirit touches as she leaves the earth. She becomes fascinated with Susie, despite barely having known her in her life, and devotes her life to writing about the visions of the dead she sees.
*Ray Singh, the first and only boy to kiss Susie, and later, becomes Ruth's friend. Was first suspected by the police of murdering Susie, but later proves his alibi.
*Ruana Singh, Ray's mother, with whom Abigail Salmon sometimes smokes cigarettes.
*Samuel Heckler, Lindsey's boyfriend and later her husband.
*Hal Heckler, Sam's older brother who runs a motorcycle repair shop.
*Len Fenerman, the police detective in charge of investigating Susie's death, who later has an affair with Abigail.
*Clarissa, Susie's best friend on Earth. Not much else is known about her, except that she has a boyfriend named Brian.
*Holly, Susie's best friend and roommate in heaven. While the text does not say so explicitly, it is implied she is Vietnamese-American. She has no accent, although she did on earth, and took her name from Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Her own life and death are never expanded upon.

*Franny, Susie and Holly's "intake counselor" in heaven.
*Holiday, Susie's dog.

Origins and inspiration

The novel draws from the author's personal experiences from when she was raped during her freshman year at Syracuse University. In "Lucky", Sebold's 1997 memoir of the event and its aftermath, she describes how it transformed her life, especially after learning that the rapist's previous victim had died. After later seeing the rapist on the street, she reported him to the police and eventually testified against him. He was convicted and received the maximum sentence.

She began the novel in the early 1990s as an outgrowth of those events. However, she fiercely resists suggestions that it had anything to do with the aftermath of the rape:


In an afterword to the paperback edition, Sebold stated that "the oddness of what we often condescendingly refer to as the suburbs" was also an inspiration. She had lived outside of Philadelphia herself for a time.Sebold, Alice, " [ The Oddity of Suburbia] "] Contrary to what is depicted in the book, however, in the 1970s (as well as today) Norristown was a largely urban municipality with few subdivisions.

Fairfax Junior High School was inspired by Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, which Sebold attended and graduated from in 1980.Fact|date=February 2007 Malvern is located approximately five miles west of Valley Forge National Historical Park, an important setting in the book, and ten miles to the south of Susie's purported home in Norristown.

Themes and literary techniques

The novel is a "Bildungsroman", or coming-of-age story. Even though Susie is dead, she manages to grow up while in heaven as her tone and perspective as a narrator changes throughout the novel.

Much of the novel concerns itself with grief and how it is, or is not, overcome by Susie's family.

The disintegration of the suburban nuclear family during the 1970s is also present, as Susie's death precipitates a chain of events which results in Abigail feeling trapped by her domestic responsibilities and ultimately leaving her husband.

Commercial and critical reception

Sebold's novel was a surprise success when it was first published, mainly because it was written by a young author known only for one other book. In addition, the plot and narrative device are unusual and unconventional. It would have been considered a success by Little, Brown and Company had it sold 20,000 copies, but it ultimately sold over a million and remained on the "New York Times" hardback bestseller list for over a year;

Some of that could have been attributed to adroit marketing. Prior to its June publication, an excerpt was run in "Seventeen". Shortly afterwards, ABC's "Good Morning America" chose it for its book club. The book became a popular summer read and a runaway success, with much of its sales subsequently attributed to word of mouth.

Critics also helped the novel's success by being generally positive, many noting that the story had more promise than the idea of a brutally murdered teenage girl going to heaven and following her family and friends as they get on with their lives would have suggested. "This is a high-wire act for a first novelist, and Alice Sebold maintains almost perfect balance," wrote Katherine Bouton in the "New York Times Book Review".Katherine Bouton, " [ What Remains] "]

The novel also sold well in other English-speaking countries, though reviews were not as glowing. While admitting the novel "has its very fine moments," "The Guardian"'s Ali Smith ultimately said "The Lovely Bones" is so keen in the end to comfort us and make safe its world that, however well-meaning, it avoids its own ramifications." " [,6000,775873,00.html A perfect afterlife] , The Guardian] Her "Observer" colleague Philip Hensher was more blunt, conceding that the novel was "very readable" but "ultimately it seems like a slick, overpoweringly saccharine and unfeeling exercise in sentiment and whimsy."Philip Hensher, " [,6121,772411,00.html An eternity of sweet nothings] "]


Because Susie's character is narrating the story from her own personal heaven, there was some controversy over the depiction of the afterlife. Readers who took a Christian perspective faulted Susie's heaven for being utterly devoid of any apparent religious aspect. "It's a very God-free heaven, with no suggestion that anyone has been judged, or found wanting," Hensher stated. Sebold, who was raised Episcopalian, is not religious and therefore intended the heaven to be simplistic in design:

Furthermore, Sebold has stated that the book is not intended to be religious, "but if people want to take things and interpret them, then I can't do anything about that. It is a book that has faith and hope and giant universal themes in it, but it's not meant to be, 'This is the way you should look at the afterlife'."

What year does the story end?

One of the subtler ways the novel shows Susie's growing detachment from earthly life is that, as the story goes on, she becomes less exact about chronology. While the device is effective for this purpose, it creates some credibility problems near the end of the novel. Susie states right before the novel ends that it has been not much more than 10 years since her death, which would put the final scenes in 1985, since Lindsey's daughter Abigail Suzanne still appears to be an infant. However, there is also a reference to "clients she saw in her practice each day," and the context suggests Lindsey is a psychotherapist. If Lindsey was 13 when her older sister was killed, however, she would have been born in 1960. For her to be a psychiatrist or counselor, she would have had to have a considerably extensive education. To have a thriving private practice at the age of 25 would be rather extraordinary, even assuming she may have graduated both high school and college each a year early, and still more so if she managed to do it without taking time off for her pregnancy.

There is also an anachronism related to Jack Salmon's heart attack and recovery. When Fenerman comes to the hospital to let the Salmons know that one of the charms from Susie's bracelet has been found, it has been the first sign "after almost seven years of dwindling hope since late 1975," making the year 1982. Later on, though, Abigail is described as reading to her husband from an issue of the "Evening Bulletin", a newspaper which ceased publication on January 29 of that same year, although it is clearly warm weather by the time of Jack's heart attack. A possible explanation for the disjointed continuity is Susie's growing disengagement from her family, and their lives on Earth, resulting in her becoming less attentive to time.

Film adaptation

Director Peter Jackson secured the book's film rights and presently is in production on the project. In a 2005 interview, he stated the reader has "an experience when you read the book that is unlike any other. I don't want the tone or the mood to be different or lost in the film." In the same interview, regarding Susie's heaven, he said the movie version will endeavor to make it appear "somehow ethereal and emotional, but it can't be hokey."Source: Variety, " [ Peter Jackson confirms The Lovely Bones as his next project] "] Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz will play Abigail Salmon, [cite news | author=Michael Fleming | coauthors=Pamela McClintock | url= | title=Weisz to star in 'Lovely Bones' | publisher=Variety | date=2007-06-12 | accessdate=2007-06-13 ] and Mark Wahlberg will portray Susie's fathercite news | author=Michael Fleming, Tatiana Siegel | url= | title= Wahlberg steps into 'Bones'| publisher=Variety | date=2007-10-21 | accessdate=2007-10-22] , Jack Salmon, after actor Ryan Gosling dropped out of the project due to creative differences. Gosling stepped out one day before shooting, even though he gained 20 lbs. and grew a beard for the role. [ [ Ryan Gosling Drops Out of Film at Last Minute] "Extra" October 23, 2007 ] Stanley Tucci will portray George Harvey, Susie's murderer, [cite news | author = Gregg Goldstein | title = Tucci cracks DW's 'Bones' | publisher = The Hollywood Reporter | date = 2007-07-23 | url = | accessdate=2007-07-23] and Susan Sarandon will portray her grandmother, Lynn.

The movie began filming in mid-October in Hatfield, Pennsylvania and then continued filming in Holmes, Pennsylvania at MacDade Mall, for six weeks of filming. The production then moved to New Zealand. [ [ "Gosling digs up 'Bones' role"] , Tatiana Siegel, "Hollywood Reporter", June 28, 2007, retrieved October 14, 2007] [ [ "'Rings' director rolls into suburbs"] , Michael Klein, "The Philadelphia Inquirer", October 21, 2007, retrieved October 23, 2007] In the film, Susie will be played by Academy Award nominee, Saoirse Ronan.


External links

* [ "The Lovely Bones" Reading Group Guide]
*imdb title|0380510
* [ A Dark First Novel Suddenly Soars to the Top] in "The New York Times"
* [ Full summary of "The Lovely Bones"]

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