The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones Narration from Beyond the Grave

Narration from the point of view of the dead character allows for Susie to know everything about what is happening on Earth. This is a useful plot device because there are never any questions for Susie about what is going on in the world of the living. The difference between Susie’s narration and the narration of the usual third person omniscient narrator is that Susie plays a key role in the plot; her murder is the main conflict of the novel, and the way the living characters come to terms with her loss is the primary action of the novel. With a third person omniscient voice, the narrator does not play a role in the lives of the other characters. It is not a person necessarily—it is just a voice that knows all that is going on in the characters’ lives. However, Susie is a first person omniscient narrator with her own plot progressing in heaven. She, like her living counterparts, also goes through character growth and development in the course of the novel.

The three traditional formats of a plot with a dead narrator are biography (when told post-mortem this is known as autothanatography), murder mystery or ghost story. Sebold’s novel does not conform to any of these—the story is not a biography of Susie’s life, it is not a mystery, because she tells us her killer in the first chapter, and it cannot be exclusively classified as a ghost story either—but it may be a combination of the three. The Lovely Bones does fit one aspect of the after-death narration, as classified by scholar Alice Bennett: the meaning of the story lies in the end. From the after-death point of view, Susie is able to gather her own evidence about her family and her murder. In essence, she solves the “mystery” of her own life. Bennett asserts, “The conclusion of death writing is non-existence and absence, not fully realized presence” (465-66). This proves to be true for The Lovely Bones; at the end of the novel, the answer of how Susie’s murder and loss is resolved is presented in the figurative “lovely bones” that Susie sees growing in her absence.

In writing Susie’s story from the after-death point-of-view, Sebold suggests the dead and the living have a reciprocal relationship, instead of the traditional idea that the living have a one-way relationship with the dead and have to go through their own grieving process. In an interview with the Guardian, Sebold reported that readers have told her they found this narration from beyond the grave comforting because it helps them imagine their loved ones are safe in heaven, and watching the living.