Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

What could be worse than losing someone you love through untimely death?

Poster for The Lovely Bones movie

Poster for The Lovely Bones movie

And what could be even worse than that?

Losing them through murder.

And then worse than that?

Just imagine – the person you love, who is murdered, is a child, with all life and hope ahead of them.

This is the nightmare scenario for many parents.

And I would share those feelings absolutely. For this reason, when I first read about Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones it immediately struck me as a novel to avoid reading.

But I watched The Lovely Bones movie on DVD recently.

Why, you may ask? The reason was because my teenage daughter wanted to see it. She’d seen a trailer and found it appealing; she likes the young star of the movie, actress Saoirse Ronan; and her friend had recommended her to see it.

So I added it to my “LoveFilm” list and it duly arrived a few days ago.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was a book which has elicited very mixed responses. Although we are told “it  received much critical praise and became an instant bestseller” on its publication in 2002, nevertheless I have spoken to people who have described it as “depressing”.

A young girl is raped and murdered by a serial killer and watches her family fall apart, from limbo.

From my point of view, as a romantic suspense author, I thought this a painful and difficult subject to handle in a novel.

Yet upon watching the movie I was totally captivated. The delicacy and beauty and wisdom with which the subject was handled reversed all my expectations.

Without reading the novel, I had thought the premise of the story essentially flawed. Firstly, telling people in this situation to ‘move on’ for its own sake, seems specious. Evidence tells us that in such cases victims above all desire justice – and until they have seen justice to be done, they cannot ‘move on’.

Secondly, to my mind, telling the story from the viewpoint of a murdered child in limbo, seemed to me a device that changes the subject in an artificial way right from the beginning. In this life, any such tragedy would be instantly rendered less agonizing if you knew for sure the lost person was in fact very close to you, present with you, and also in heaven. And of course the idea of wandering around in “limbo” as part of the post-death spiritual journey, is derived from Catholic tradition, and one of the explanations popularly given for ghosts.

I believe that in real life we never do have such immediate and uncontrovertible assurance – with or without religious faith.

So I thought it a very dubious quasi-spiritual approach to such a theme. And yet, in the hands of a skilled director – in this case,  Peter Jackson – a book can be turned into a movie where these difficulties recede, and another message comes through.

In some respects, the subject invites comparison with the book The Shack.

In this book, too, a young girl is lured to a ‘killing place’ and murdered. The story follows the reaction of Missy’s father to this tragedy, and moves on into an exploration of God which, I dare to believe, hs the power to transform our habitual attitudes.

I felt that in each story a device of separation is used: defamiliarisation. It seems that some of the worst experiences in life can only be truly understood from a distance. This has long formed part of the genres of mystery and imagination.

This was well underscored by the music – slow, languorous and dreamlike behind the “In-between world” and edgy clanging discordant notes as the murderer starts to saw wood and construct his next killing den. The visual effects too were very powerful; shadows moving across rays of light “in the blue horizon between heaven and earth” like images in dreams,  and the creepy dismal gloom of the world of grief which the family inhabit, with the father’s initial denial and continuous refusal to let go. Very striking too was the silence behind the murderer as the blackness slides aside to reveal him sitting in his house.

The words “I knew then even though he loved me he had to let me go ”  restate the theme, as do the words, “I begin to see thing in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.”

Have you seen the movie? Do you believe that a flawed premise in a novel can be transformed by a movie director? Please share your own thoughts, on this, or on the issues it raises.

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