The Virgin Suicides

Picture via whitecrow4545, deviantart.

Picture via whitecrow4545, deviantart.

One of the most intense books I’ve ever read, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides follows a non-linear structure, mimicking the process of research. This research is conducted by a group of mostly unnamed men who have been fixated with the Lisbon sisters since their teenagehood.

These sisters (Lux, Mary, Therese, Cecilia and Bonnie) fell to suicide within a year. The group of admirers want to know why, but after about 20 years, they end up with nothing despite their thorough investigation – interviews, even with the mysterious, strict and religious Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon, and artifacts including evidence from the suicide scenes.

The reason behind the suicides remains unsolved, why they wanted to die alone, and we also don’t know much about the girls. It plays with the book’s themes gossip (several interpretations/theories are made in regards to the suicides and the girls’ lives), observation, suicide associated with stigma and adults’ blindness to teen struggles (I wanted to smack Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon for being unable to understand their daughters on any level). The group of admirers/men/investigators only interact with the sisters in person once. Besides that, they only observe them from across the street or communicate from afar. Therefore, we have an unreliable narrator but the mystery and inconsistency are what intrigue me.

There are a lot of motiffs in the book including religious symbols/references, light/dark and in particular the Lisbon house. The Lisbon house serves as the medium between the family and the rest of the neighbourhood. The house deteriorates due to, well, we assume that the family has neglected household chores and obviously something wrong has been going on (but we don’t find out what). The decaying house and the description of its rotting smell and growing isolation reflects the breaking of the family unit, the unforgiving entity that is Time, and a disturbance to the American dream portrayed here which consists of happiness and consumerism but remain frozen in time. The neighbourhood is so concerned with happiness and consumerism that they get over the suicides, supposedly a blow to the perfect neighbourhood, quickly as if nothing happened. Ignorance and indulgences are bliss. However, the neighbourhood does lose its happiness and decays with people moving and changes according to time.

We can assume that since Cecilia is the first to commit suicide and it has a profound effect on her family, her sisters can’t live without her and also due to the frustration with living under a strict regime. There’s something about their suicides that’s disturbing. There’s a sense of gothic-ness to them. We know from the start they killed themselves and we wait for those moments but the deaths still shock us and it’s hard to forget how they died because of the grotesqueness and mundane-ness. The ordinary can turn into the unreal and it can hurt us.

I found it interesting and a little unnerving that the first and last sisters (Mary) to die have previously attempted suicide. Their deaths receive contrasting responses from the neighbourhood, giving the sense of a beginning and an end. More sympathy and shock with Cecilia, but indifference to Mary’s like they knew that she would meet her fate soon and thought there was no point in worrying OR the first suicide was shocking and after more suicides…the audience is bored – reflecting sensationalism of violent acts (the narrator makes a point that the people rely heavily on TV/news).

Even though the boys call the suicides selfish acts, the blame is mainly pinned on society for creating an unstable environment, for not listening to or treating teenagers as people, and the decline of that society is the consequence. It eerily reminds me of common responses to teen suicide in reality.

One last thing. The book is conscious of time. The narrator mentions that the group and him had difficulty remembering the Lisbon sisters’ appearances and voices after a long period of silence/isolation before their deaths – they needed contact or see them to remember. Back to the present, the artifacts used for the investigation are also aging and some are close to becoming dust but the group won’t forget the sisters. Because they witnessed their departure from the world.

Marilyn Monroe Meeting Queen Elizabeth II

I still can’t believe that these two met (both were the same age at the time).

A Footage of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s Daughter

I’ve always been fascinated with Queen Victoria and her family. Princess Louise was her rebellious daughter who had a talent for art and having a mind of her own. She was unconventional by Victorian standards and a strong supporter of feminism, much to the queen’s annoyance.

An Inspiring Quote

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

My Story by Marilyn Monroe

182230I’ve always wanted to get inside one of my favourite actresses Marilyn Monroe’s head. I knew she had a bad childhood and struggled to be a star, but I read that from secondary, objective accounts and movies that show both positive and negative sides of her. So I read My Story which is her unfinished autobiography, co-written by Ben Hecht.

Monroe gives the reader a taste of certain moments of her life (approx. 10 pages for each chapter) but they’re enough to create pity and my admiration for her grew as I read her thoughts on her ups and downs, her persistence after rejections (not just from employment but personal-related rejections too), her pessimistic view on Hollywood and its “fake” people, and feminist thoughts (though she confesses that she’s more comfortable with men than women since most of the women around her despise/avoid her).

My Story shows that Monroe was intelligent, not a dumb blonde, and didn’t exactly let fame get into her head. She was aware of her audience and people kept projecting her as a sex symbol rather than a serious actress. There were several times that she unintentionally gave off “sexual vibes”, leading her to say:

“People have a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they see their lewd thoughts. They then white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.”

I admire her for never giving up on proving them wrong – she just wanted to do her work. In this way, My Story is also an assessment on people perceive others without actually knowing them. Because it’s unfinished, the autobiography doesn’t give you the whole picture and I wish it was complete. The book makes her death more heart-wrenching and it left me sobbing. Excuse me…

Bared To You

BaredToYouBerkleySDayI had to take a few days to make conclusions on Bared to You by Sylvia Day which follows Eva Trammell experiencing a purely sexual relationship with Gideon Cross which becomes more than that. I liked it and it’s way better than Fifty Shades of Grey in terms of writing, plot, characterisation and relationships.

But…the internalised misogyny running throughout the book bothered me. Why does Eva hate women so much? Okay, I understand she’s a jealous person but why put so much hate on Gideon’s exes? They haven’t done anything wrong or try to lure him away from her.

I have mixed views on how the book handled rape. It’s good that it’s serious about rape and the effects on the victim BUT [SPOILER ALERT] when Gideon “accidentally” rapes Eva in their sleep, they don’t treat rape as a crime but an obstacle – “we can’t let the past stop us”. Yes, they’re shaken by it and both of them ward off each other – Eva to an extent though. However, they move on so quick like nothing had happened. There’s also the sense that rape is being romanticised and is caused by a bad upbringing. Seriously, I’m tired of bad childhoods being a cause for rape and brooding behaviours, and used to justify a man’s treatment towards women. And the common misconception that BDSM practitioners are people with messed up lives or people with trauma as a result of rape find BDSM a cure…please stop.

Though I liked that Eva is a strong woman and isn’t ashamed of her constant crave for sex; she didn’t need a hot guy like Gideon to “activate” her sexual life or self-worth unlike a certain character. But she does end up a bit clingy with Gideon. I liked that he respects Eva’s boundaries and listens (and doesn’t blame her for rape) but his constant surveillance/stalking bothered me. I still don’t understand why stalking is considered hot and I was glad that Eva doesn’t like it either.

And thank god that Eva’s friend/roommate Cary has sense and can see the nature of Eva and Gideon’s relationship, and he has mixed feelings about it. Both Eva and Gideon (who is also a sexual abuse survivor) are aware that their relationship is unhealthy and they’re determined to make it better by going to counseling and that’s great – so much healthier than the relationship in Fifty Shades. Still, something about them being together disturbs me.

I’m still deciding whether or not I should read the rest of the series.

American Gods

indexNeil Gaiman is a god. American Gods is a well-written story following Shadow, the bridge/medium between the old gods (Asian, African, Native American and European gods) and the new gods (gods representing the internet, capitalism and media) who are enemies – the latter believing that there’s no place for the old gods anymore. And there’s the recurring thought that America isn’t a good place for the old gods, reminding you of the Old World vs. New World theme.

American Gods not just fantasy but fantasy co-existing with the real. The language creates a sense of morphing, reflecting the many incarnations of the gods. Zooming in and out of the scene, out of the characters’ minds. Intertwining intricate plots set in the present and past. The ambiguity of the state of life and death. All these led to a head shake to get rid of confusion. It’s not until a few pages later that something starts to make sense and then you go, “Oh, I get it.”

I was impressed with the exploration of non-Western mythologies especially African and Native American – very refreshing – and they are as important as the Greek, Nordic and Roman myths we’re used to. You can tell that Gaiman respectfully did substantial research on the mythologies and the culture/people they belong to. He also wasn’t shy or embellished the treatment of certain groups of people in the past and it’s interesting how he related it to the main plot and myths.

I can’t wait for the sequel and TV adaptation :)

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