illustration of Susie in the clouds with her charm bracelet above her head

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

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What are key differences between The Lovely Bones film and book?

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The main difference between the novel The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and filmmaker Peter Jackson's adaptation for the screen lies in the portrayal of the world of heaven experienced by the main character, Susie (played by Saoirse Ronan). The character of Susie is dead, having been brutally raped and murdered while still a teenager. The novel's first line is “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” 

Sebold's novel won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, but the film garnered mostly negative reviews. Despite the book's haunting and rather disturbing story (based in part upon author Sebold's own experience of being raped), the film has a fantastical quality, full of special effects and fantasy sequences, that seems to diminish its seriousness. It is possible that Jackson sought to downplay the brutality of Susie's demise and to emphasize the world of "heaven" she now inhabits; but for many critics and viewers familiar with the novel, this approach does not seem like an effective adaptation.

Jackson, most well known for his award-winning work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a director known for imbuing his works with dazzling special effects. His film Heavenly Creatures, which dramatizes the true story of two teenage girls whose obsessive friendship leads them to commit murder, is full of scenes of fantasy and romance. But this film's fantastical elements reflect the bizarre psychological circumstances of the girls' friendship, and draws upon their actual diary writings to re-create their relationship. In contrast, The Lovely Bones feels wrong-headed due to the brutality of the main character's death, which seems at odds with the strange beauty and pleasant qualities of her "heavenly" existence.

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