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Not to be Overlooked

By Nayisha Patel and Georgia Appleyard

Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great read. This review covers The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Review by Nayisha Patel

Jeffrey Eugenides' melancholy and introspective book The Virgin Suicides examines the intricacy of youth, obsession and the perplexing nature of human tragedy. The story follows a group of young boys who are fascinated by the mysterious allure of the five Lisbon sisters as they discover information about their lives and deaths. The novel is set in a tranquil suburban neighbourhood in the 1970s.

The dramatic and immersive writing style of Eugenides draws readers into the claustrophobic world of the Lisbon family and their solitary lives. The boys who are now adults reflect on their shared history, notably their obsession with the Lisbon sisters, as they tell the story. Adding a layer of melancholy and nostalgia, this retrospective narration creates the mood for the fatal events that follow. The lads who live across the street become fascinated and obsessed with the Lisbon girls, who are under the harsh control of their parents. The neighbourhood is captivated by the girls' eerie aura because of their seclusion and impending maturity. The turmoil of puberty, the desire for connection and the longing to comprehend the mystique of life and death are all expertly captured by Eugenides.

The novel's examination of societal expectations, parental authority and the vulnerability of mental health is emotional and thought-provoking. The reader is given the difficult task of understanding both the causes of the girls' unfortunate outcomes and the effects of societal constraints on their lives. Rich and evocative, Eugenides' prose provides a vivid picture of suburban life with all its intricacies. A strong sense of empathy for the characters and their hardships is sparked by the quiet sorrow and unsaid feelings that permeate the pages.

However, because of its weighty subjects and depressing mood, The Virgin Suicides might be challenging to read. For some readers, the constant feeling of uneasiness and impending catastrophe may be too much. Additionally, the distance created by the retrospective narrative occasionally precludes the reader from developing a stronger emotional bond with the characters.

Beautifully written and introspective, The Virgin Suicides explores the depths of human emotions, societal pressures and the horrors that can happen in secret. A captivating and unsettling book, Jeffrey Eugenides' lyrical style and examination of youth make the novel an intriguing read. This novel is a potent examination of the human condition. However, its gloomy nature may not be ideal for all readers who are looking for a thought-provoking and atmospheric literary experience.

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Review by Georgia Appleyard

Claudia Piñeiro has often been hailed as one of Argentina’s most renowned crime writers. Given the synopsis of Elena Knows, you’re likely to pick up the 2022 International Booker Prize shortlisted work expecting a mysterious and pacy crime novel. The story opens in the wake of the mysterious death of the protagonist’s daughter on a rainy afternoon, and when the police quickly dismiss Elena’s suspicions of foul play, our protagonist is launched into an investigation of her own. Unfolding across a single day, the novel charts Elena’s journey through Buenos Aires to uncover clues that will lead her to Rita’s killer, dragging up past memories on the way. Yet Elena Knows is far from a typical crime novel.

Elena Knows is not your typical crime novel as its protagonist, Elena, is an unlikely hero who battles with her own body. She has Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder that usually manifests in involuntary tremors, slow movements, and stiff, inflexible muscles. The rhythm of Elena’s daily life is punctuated by the medication she must take to retain some control over her movements. This amplifies the story’s underlying tension, as Elena’s quest for truth is often undermined by a body that may simply refuse to cooperate. Even her vision is curtailed by an inability to raise her head and look others in the eye. It is for this reason that Elena seeks to enlist the body of another woman to carry out her investigation, and in the process discovers an entirely different perspective of her devout Christian daughter.

Elena Knows is, ironically enough, not a story about what Elena knows. Rather, it is a story about the unknown, even the mistaken, as Elena is forced to reflect on the false assumptions she had taken for the absolute truth about herself, her daughter and motherhood. Even the reader’s first impressions are mistaken, as what appears to be a story of murder and intrigue unveils itself to be a multifaceted commentary on contemporary social issues and an excellent introduction to Argentine fiction.

With vivid descriptions of Elena’s illness, Piñeiro’s prose pulls no punches and is often uncomfortable to read. However, the lasting impression of this short but punchy novel is one of hope. Elena Knows encourages us to press pause on interrogations of the past and to turn our imagination to the possibilities of an unknown future.


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