I admit, calling it “a masterpiece” might be an overstatement. But this book sure surprised me with its style, beauty and that ethereal feeling you get whenever you truly lose yourself in a book. And sadly, that doesn’t happen to me often. I guess a book needs to be truly special to make me feel that way.
I am, obviously, quite late to the party. “The Virgin Suicides” novel was popular a long time ago and I have no idea why I never bothered to read it. I guess the “suicide” in the title made it seem depressing. But my husband (who’s read a few passages) recommended it with the words: “this guy writes like you, the same style and all”.
Needless to say, it’s not true in strict sense of the words, but I understand why he said that. What I loved about the novel is not what Eugenides said, but how he said it. The book isn’t perfect technically, but in a way, it makes it even better. And Jeffrey Eugenides sure knows how to write.
The story about the Lisbon sisters, their suicides, the boys who were obsessed with them and changing of suburbia could have been told in numerous ways, but he chose the one that makes it seem not just original, but also the only possible way to tell it. And that speaks volumes about his writing.
What I find fascinating is the fact it’s written in freaking first person plural – and it doesn’t sound annoying, pretentious or confusing at all. It just fits. It fits perfectly. It fits perfectly because the book isn’t really about the Lisbon sisters, or why they killed themselves, but about the boys and their coming of age, and this suburban life that is slowly dying, never to be the same again. Some critics claim the boys serve as a Greek chorus, but I am not quite sure if I buy that. I’d rather say it’s one of the cases of a “hidden” main character, where protagonists are not the same as narrators. But at the end of the day, it is the book about the boys, and it sure makes you (well, me) understand teenage boys better.
And not to mention one of the most captivating characters in contemporary literature: Trip Fontaine. Ok, I might be biased here, because I am insanely jealous of Eugenides for creating this memorable character with so little words. The name itself is perfect; perfect name for such a character (how come I can’t think of something like that?) What is interesting to note is that Trip doesn’t appear in the book that much at all, but still feels like a prominent character. Many writers before Eugenides have written, and many will yet write, trying to give a mesmerizing portrayal of a teenage heartthrob, but people will still remember Trip Fontaine. Now, that’s writing.
The book is in no way perfect, but that’s a good thing. There are some technical “errors”, but they only make it seem less planned, like a real memory.
Naturally (?) after reading the book, I wanted to see the film. They say movies always disappoint, but I am usually prepared for it. Sofia Coppola’s movie didn’t disappoint, because I wasn’t expecting much. In a way, it is a sweet and poignant film. I didn’t find it to be slow or confusing, as some people claim.
Sofia Coppola took a great effort in keeping most of the little details that make book so striking: the bracelets, poking smoke rings, Lux’s underwear with “Trip” written on it, brown-and white saddle shoes, and so many others. That is something contemporary filmmakers rarely do and I respect her for that.
Still, she somehow managed to make a movie that has all the details, but completely missing the mood, feel and (dare to say) point of the novel. I have no idea how she’s done it, but that’s how it is. She gave us a visually beautiful film, but for some reason it never really felt like a good adaptation of the book.
I guess it’s because she chose to focus on the girls more than the boys. It’s not that I don’t understand this decision; I guess it’s difficult to tell the story from the boys’ POV. Still, focusing on the Lisbon sisters, and showing so many of their lives inside the house, with each other and their parents, killed much of the mystery about the sisters. We got to see them as nothing more but a regular teenagers with strict parents, and we are unable to understand boys’ obsession with them. I think it wasn’t the best move.
The casting was fairly good, despite the fact I – not sure how to put this gracefully – can’t stand Kirsten Dunst. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I usually find her unwatchable. Needless to say, I didn’t find her to be a convincing Lux (I think she would make a good Bonnie, though), but she wasn’t bad. I sure didn’t imagine Mr and Mrs Lisbon as James Woods and Kathleen Turner, but they were good.
The only casting choice I am not so sure about is Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. The problem with Trip is that he’s never described, so you can picture him anyway you want, and I sure didn’t picture him as Josh Hartnett. I mean… The guy can’t really act, can he? * Right. But I must reluctantly admit he made a good Trip Fontaine; you could imagine girls (and mothers?) falling for someone like him. And his performance was decent, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad casting choice.
* In Hatnett’s defense, he did give at least one good performance in his career. I’ve watched “Mozart and the Whale” recently, and he was quite good as a guy with Asperger’s. So maybe he’s not completely talentless after all. And now that he’s getting older (and less hot?) he might try to become a real actor and not a joke he used to be (*cough* Pearl Harbour *cough* – yes, I pretend that one never happened, too).
All in all, the movie was visually beautiful, but it didn’t impress me. I just don’t find it to be a good adaptation of the novel: it fails to capture its essence, while at the same time it’s way too dependent on the novel to stand on its own.