Most Resonant Books: “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides

“In the end we had the pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptinesses mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name.”

-Jeffrey Eugenides

The gateway drug to a novel seems to be the film for me, it happens so often that I come across an adaptation first, get hooked and then devour the novel. That seems to be the way I roll most of the time. I first watched Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” (a visual echo of Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” based on the novel by Joan Lindsay) as a teenager and became an immediate fan of her work.

I bought the German translation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel resembling Theodor Fontane’s “Effi Briest” cover as I seem to remember. For some reason, I don’t think that I spent much time with the German version, I was just happy to have it in my collection.

I always considered the film to be one of my favourites and I watched it many times. When I picked the novels and films for my postgraduate research thesis, “The Virgin Suicides” was on top of my list, the story of the Lisbon sisters was one key ingredient in the comparative literary and cinematographic concoction.

I spent hours picking stills (which, you can imagine, is a magnificent treat in a Sofia Coppola film, but doesn’t make it easier when you have to stick to a certain amount for the visual parallels) and selecting the most striking quotes for my reading of the film and the novel. And, guess what, I was completely captivated by the American English version of the novel. I used it so much that it started to fall apart. Over the last years there have been some criticisms about “The Virgin Suicides” and it was interesting to be aware of them. When I presented my thesis during my viva, there was one question from my examiner that still sticks with me today because I couldn’t quite find the answer, he asked me why the Lisbon sisters just didn’t pack their bags in the 70s and went to live in a city nearby and leave all of the suburban religious maternal terror behind?

That’s a good question, still, and I suddenly felt like the neighbourhood boys, after I thought that I figured everything out, the sisters had evaded me again. Maybe there is no mystery, maybe the easiest answer is the scariest and the one we don’t want to accept because it hurts too much, shocks us too much.


“Mother and Daughter” by Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

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