I'm looking at the books and authors that inspire me as both a writer and a reader. I've chosen eight of my favourite novels and they're presented in no particular order.
"Horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained."
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a book that I've read many times and for me, it never loses its power. Part thriller, part coming-of-age, part bereavement study, it tells the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old who is brutally raped and murdered by her neighbour, George Harvey, and the consequent anguish her surviving family endure. Sounds grim? It is. To a degree. The twist in this disturbing tale is that Susie narrates the story from Heaven, or rather, her own personal vision of what Heaven is. She watches over her family, witnessing their horror and grief as they struggle to come to terms with their loss.
Their anguish is made worse by the fact that her body has not been recovered (only her elbow is found - a detail too upsetting to imagine, and one left out of the movie adaptation) and her killer is not apprehended.
As Susie deals with her own struggles of adapting to a celestial existence, she attempts to reach out to family members and friends in an effort to point them to her murderer, who, cruelly, is sitting right next door. At times she succeeds, causing supernatural phenomena. Her father and sister both begin to suspect George Harvey, but the closer they get to revealing him as Susie's killer, the further they get from catching him.
One of the reasons I love this book so much is its unique and unflinching take on dealing with grief. It doesn't tiptoe around the subjects of rape and murder, nor does it gloss over everything with a Hollywood sheen (unlike the film, unfortunately). The scenes in Heaven are fantastical and colourful, and they help to balance out the horror of what's happening down on Earth.
The final scenes of The Lovely Bones tend to polarise readers, with one camp applauding its boldness, and the other believing it takes a step towards the ridiculous. If you haven't read it, I won't ruin it for you.
Sebold's simple but majestic prose, flawless characterizations, and ability to rip out my heart then put it back together again, has had me coming back to The Lovely Bones over and over.
Have your read The Lovely Bones or watched the film adaptation? What did you think? What are the books that inspire you?