The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones is a beautifully written and utterly gut-wrenching story. It is about the life, death, and after-life of a young girl, as she watches her family from Heaven.

Susie Salmon was lured into a field one afternoon on her way home from school, by a neighbour who had built an underground bunker hidden among the corn stalks. In that place, he rapes, murders and dismembers Susie. Later he disposes of her by locking the pieces of her body into an old safe and dumping everything into a sinkhole outside of town.

The identity of Susie’s murderer is not a secret to the reader. We experience the story from her perspective as she watches from Heaven, following Mr. Harvey, as well as her family and friends, watching them deal with the immediate news of her death and on through the years.

The Lovely Bones takes place over a period of 15 years or so. Initial chapters follow Susie’s parents, sister and brother over the course of a year. During this period, Susie is both watching events unfold on Earth and exploring the afterlife.

In her Heaven, a person can have almost anything they like. It is a peaceful place that is safe, comforting and in a way, timeless. But spirits are trapped there until they learn to let go of those still on Earth. As long as she is tied to her loved ones and to her murderer, and desires answers to burning questions – like why me – Susie will not be able to move one to what is next.

The remainder of the story unfolds with increasingly large leaps in the timeline. Susie is learning to let go of her Earthly life and death and so is her family. By the end of the book, they don’t often think or speak of her. Not because the pain of loss is removed, or because they love her any less, but because she is no longer there. The living have to keep living. This change isn’t sad. Susie wants her loved ones to be happy and truly live, and she delights in experiencing things she missed through others.

One of those moments is when her younger sister has sex for the first time. Susie is so happy for her sister, that she had a special connection with a boy she loves and that her first time is so gentle, romantic, and a tender moment of connection between two individuals… everything that Susie herself was robbed of.

This story is understandably tragic just from the material that is discussed, but the author’s rendition of the events is chilling. She isn’t too graphic in her description or Susie’s rape or murder but her understanding of the grief that envelopes each person that Susie knew is astounding. Between her disappearance and the memorial service three months later, this loss is viewed from the perspectives of her parents and siblings, her grandmother, her teacher, her crush, a classmate and a neighbour.

So many people are affected by her loss, and the reader can’t help but experience it with them. I felt like it was my cousin, my classmate, my neighbour going through such a tragedy.

One of things in this book which really stuck out to me, is that the people whom you expected to feature prominently didn’t always. Very little is discussed about Susie’s best friend and Susie doesn’t follow her life the way she does another classmate whom she barely knew, but who was so changed by this life experience. And although Susie does haunt her murderer Mr. Harvey, as time drags on, years go by without her checking on him.

It has been a very long time since a story has touched me so deeply throughout the entire book. I don’t know if I have ever cried this much through a story. The fact that this was the author’s first novel is crazy. I definitely plan to read more of what she has written. But at the same time, I don’t think I will ever be able reread The Lovely Bones.

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Post-script spoiler

The ending of this book was surprising to me. I really thought that Lin would eventually catch Mr. Harvey. I still felt he got what was coming to him in the end, but it burns that he lived his whole life as a pedophile, a serial rapist and a serial killer, without ever paying for his crimes against so many women and children. I was also devastated that no one ever found Susie’s body. With all the talk of fixing the sinkhole and building a subdivision over top, I truly thought that eventually someone would make that gruesome discovery. I wanted that closure for her family.

xx

Broadchurch

Have you heard of Broadchurch? It is a British crime drama set in a small coastal town of 15,000 residents and it is the best thing since sliced bread.

I watched this show when it first aired in North America a couple of years ago, but between moving and whatnot, I entirely missed the second season and now we are on the third. To catch up I decided to re-watch the entire first season. I was curious whether it would hold up now that I know what happens, and boy did it ever!

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Miller (l) and Hardy (r)

The pilot opens with the death of 11yo Danny Latimer. His death is quickly ruled suspicious and the entire first season (8 episodes, about 50 minutes apiece) is spent tracking down his murderer.

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Danny was survived by his Mom (Beth), sister (Chloe) and Dad (Mark).

This is something that I love about British dramas; they don’t feel as if they have to somehow wrap it up and finish the entire mystery in one episode. They have faith that their audience can carry forward interest from week to week. American crime dramas, like Law and Order, Blue Bloods, CSI, Bones … they all seem to have to solve a murder in 40 minutes, which leaves very little time for exploring the intense nuances of emotion behind every situation, and the complicated web of lies and secrets in every person’s life. Throughout the course of Broadchurch season one, we learn (presumably) all the secrets of the Latimer family and many of the other village residents as well as the investigators, DI Hardy and DI Miller (featured in the DVD cover photo above).

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Miller with her family at a memorial for Danny.

There aren’t too many shows that can make you cry multiple times in the pilot episode alone! Because you explore the mystery of Danny’s death over so many episodes, and over considerably more time in tv-land, you feel as if this is actually happening. I found it easy to process the evolution of events and emotions with the characters. Just look at the emotion on Mum’s face as she realizes that the body found on the beach is her son.

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Police trying to drag Beth away from her son’s body.

The show covers every aspect of real life for the family. The full emotional range that each person can feel – and how each person grieves differently – is depicted over the following weeks, along with the criminal investigation, the involvement of the press and the emotional toll it takes on the police officers leading the investigation.

I expected DI Miller to be emotional because she is a long-time friend to the family and knew Danny all his life, but Hardy was a newcomer to Broadchurch. He literally arrived the night before the murder. To see the deep emotional connection that develops between himself and Beth and Mark was … inspiring? to see. I don’t think that is the right word, but it surprised me to see this relationship develop and the show would have been missing something without it. While Hardy is never going to be a friend who pops round for dinner, a bond develops over the season that I suspect will always be there. It is a deeply personal thing I suppose, to accept someone into your home in your most vulnerable moments, to bare every secret and skeleton to him while he investigates the murder of your child. You have to trust him to find the right person, and put together a strong enough case to stand up in court.

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The investigators walking with the family and other villagers in a silent vigil.

I also found it surprising to see the humanity of some of the reporters reporting on Danny’s case. The locals who were a part of the village I expected tact and common decency from, but the female reporter from the Herald also show a surprising amount of compassion. Throughout the season I kept willing the family to lock her out, not give her any time, because I didn’t trust her from the start, but she gives them good advice from the heart and is sensitive in her reporting.

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It would have been easy to paint her – or any number of people on the show – as evil but the creators were careful to depict each characters as regular people who are made up of good and bad, each with skeletons in his or her closet.

I love Broadchurch and so do most of my family members. It is my favourite show currently and I can’t wait to binge watch the second and third seasons. If you are remotely interested in crime shows, drama, or British tv, you need to give it a try. I could feel the emotional tugs on my heart with every episode and was often reduced to tears.

Obviously this show deals with difficult subject matter but the violence and subject matter aren’t any worse than your typical American crime drama. Actually, I think there is probably less violence. The emotionalism is partially just me, but mostly a testament to how well done this show is.

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xx