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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Abduction bestseller set for UK
Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold: Some say book is destined to be a classic

A novel about the abduction and murder of a teenager, published at the same time as some high-profile abductions in the US, has swept the country's bestseller lists.

Now The Lovely Bones is to be released in the UK.

Author Alice Sebold, has found herself acting as willing therapist for families with lost children on her US promotional tours.

Critics across America have praised her for the bold step of appointing the 14-year-old murder victim as her narrator.

The venerable New York Times applauded Sebold, 40, for "daring to write a book narrated by someone who's dead. Not only dead and not only murdered but murdered at the age of 14".

For Susie Salmon, the lead character of The Lovely Bones, her life in the hereafter is also very wrapped up in her life on earth.

She spends time with her sister Lindsey and her boyfriend, talks to her brother Buckley from the other side, follows her mother when she flees to California, sits with her father as he grieves her loss and watches the man who raped and murdered her.

'Breakout debut'

The narrative risk has certainly paid off for Sebold.

Book News reports that The Lovely Bones hit the number one spot on Amazon.com six weeks before its publication date. And just a few days before that, Time magazine declared it "the breakout fiction debut of the year".

To date more than one million books have been sold, surpassing the sales of any other first novel in living memory, claims Book News.

The Lovely Bones cover
The book has provoked families to discuss their thoughts on death
The film rights were optioned by Film Four some time ago.

And while Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has written half a script, Sebold says she has no idea what will happen now that Film Four has shut up shop.

For Sebold the book's stunning success has been like a dream.

'Classic'

"It hasn't hit me yet. Its fun to watch and I guess it means someone might want to buy my next book as opposed to me having to fight hard to get that done."

Booksellers are already comparing The Lovely Bones to such long running blockbusters as Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain.

Some have said it is destined to be a classic along the lines of To Kill A Mockingbird. But Sebold, who has just returned from a grueling five-week book tour, shivers at such comparisons.

"It makes me very nervous. I think all books should exist on their own and even when the comparisons are meant in an extremely nice way, comparing any new piece of art to a classic will make some people like it more and others go gunning for it.

"They will read it with that comparison in mind."

The writer admits that Susie's voice came while she was working at her Long Beach home on another novel at the time.

Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart: Novel has helped families upset by the girl's abduction
She also reveals that her own experience of being raped when she was a 19-year-old freshman allowed her to write realistically about what happened to Susie.

Healing

"It gave me the authority to write a scene of violence. Her perpetrator and mine are very different," says Sebold.

The book's release in the US proved timely.

The most widely publicised US abduction case was that of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart taken from her home in Salt Lake City at gunpoint in the middle of the night.

Sebold said after the case, as her promotional tour kicked in, she found herself talking to families upset by the events, almost as a therapist.

For five weeks she crisscrossed the States doing readings and found they provided some healing for those who have lost children. She says another phenomenon caught her completely by surprise.

"The last couple of weeks I have had whole families come to my readings and they're talking about what it would be like if one of them died.

"You know what the dad's heaven would look like or what the kids' heaven would look like. I think a year ago that wouldn't have happened and you hope we have all woken up to the idea that you can die at any moment."

That sentiment takes shape in The Lovely Bones but there is also something hopeful about the book as Susie ends with a simple message no doubt echoed by the author.

"I wish you all a long and happy life."

The Lovely Bones comes out in the UK via Picador on 2 September.

See also:

07 Jun 02 | Americas
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