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‘The Lovely Bones’ as Ghost Story

posted by Donna Freitas

I’d never really thought of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel “The Lovely Bones” as a ghost story–though to call it haunting is an understatement, too. But there is no getting around the fact that the story’s protagonist, Susie Salmon, raped and killed at age 14, does become a ghost of sorts (when you really think about it), spending her afterlife in something like heaven, looking down on her family, watching them suffer her loss and agonizing over everyone’s inability to uncover the mystery of her tragic disappearance and death.
the lovely bones.jpgApparently for Peter Jackson bringing “The Lovely Bones” to the big screen, this story is most certainly a ghost story, though of a different sort than he is accustomed. In “Not His Typical Ghost Story (or Movie)” Terrence Rafferty of the New York Times writes:
“Things that go bump — and much, much worse — in the night have never fazed Peter Jackson. Far from it. At this point in his career, two decades and counting, a film without some form of ghoulie, ghostie or long-leggedy beastie (preferably in quantity) just wouldn’t seem like a Peter Jackson movie at all. So it’s reassuring, in a disquieting sort of way, that his latest film, “The Lovely Bones,” is a ghost story…The ghost in “The Lovely Bones”…isn’t as alarming as the specters Mr. Jackson usually traffics in: she’s a 14-year-old puzzled to have had her life ended abruptly by a neighborhood pervert, and she doesn’t so much haunt her family as look after them, from the lofty, helpless perspective of the afterlife.”
The fact that Peter Jackson is directing the movie may actually get me to the theater to see it. I will never forget reading this novel–I started it on an overnight transcontinental flight. This was a huge mistake. While everyone was shutting off lights to get some sleep, I was hooked so deep, so quickly that soon the light over my seat was the only one left illuminated on the entire plane. I read and read until the very end, feeling shattered, devastated, and angry upon finishing it. As much as I couldn’t stop reading the book I felt hijacked by a story so upsetting I almost wished I’d never heard of it.
But boy was it powerful. The idea of seeing it on the big screen is daunting. Though, there is a certain pull for me about the way people interpret the afterlife, and this, perhaps, will not allow me to resist. And then, I love ghost stories, and it’s hard to find one more moving than “The Lovely Bones.”



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