Details: (c) Alice Sebold 2002; Pub 2003 Picador; ISBN 0-330-48538-5
Verdict: The lovely bones is quite original and readable.
Reasons for reading it: It was discussed a lot in the general media when it was first published, and seemed like something I might like if I didn't hate it, so I was intrigued.
How it came into my hands: A charity shop in one of the English towns I've been book-hunting in over the past year or so.
In some ways, The Lovely Bones is a novel version of the sort of story that appears in low-end women's magazines: "My murdered daughter spoke to us from the Other Side!". Despite the awfulness of that plot device, and despite the sentimentality which is definitely there, tLB is nothing like as terrible as it could have been. The book's conception of the afterlife and how a ghost perceives and to a very limited extent interacts with life on earth is interesting, and well thought out. While it is true that tLB is a tear-jerker if ever there one, and has rather a lot of women finding their One True Love in annoying ways, it manages to rise above that kind of stuff as well.
The characterization is good, as are the portrayals of the relationship difficulties that have to be overcome before the various couples can live happily ever after. But tLB does stand out from a lot of (even well-written) romances because of the way it deals with bereavement and how Susie's murder affects the people around her. And the way it provides character development and some kind of closure without detracting from its portrayal of the pain of losing a loved one.
The sections from the murderer's point of view annoyed me, because they're little more than just trashy pop psychology about how he became a paedophile and serial killer because his parents didn't love him enough. I think the novel would have been better without including him as a character. Even though the attempts by various police and lay people to identify and catch him do provide drama, I felt the book would have been stronger without them, especially as I found the denoument of that thread extremely unsatisfying.
tLB avoided a lot of potential pitfalls to achieve something that is quite new, even if it's not perfect. I'm not still not sure that a novel told from the pov of a murder victim in heaven is inherently a good idea, but as far as that theme is worth writing, tLB does a pretty reasonable job.