Reviews have compared it to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides which is one of my desert island books. I've read it so many times the pages are sick of seeing my face. It's a captivating piece of literary gold that I cannot recommend enough.
Both The Virgin Suicides and Weightless are debut novels written in the first person plural...and this is where the comparisons end because Weightless is so far removed from Eugenides's masterpiece that I cannot begin to think why anyone would even sit them next to each other on a bookshelf. The Virgin Suicides captivates the reader from the offset and leaves them hungering for more. I have read the book more times than I care to admit and I still find some new clue, some new motivation for the girls' suicide on every read.
In its own right, Weightless is an enjoyable book but comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is like putting a standard bar of Dairy Milk next to Belgium's finest chocolate offerings.
***SPOILER ALERT***The story centres around a new girl, Carolyn, who moves to a small town in Alabama. Our narrators are a group of her high school classmates who are neither popular nor unpopular but that middle class of not disliked.
In the beginning the girls are in awe of Carolyn; she wears the right clothes and is naturally beautiful, she displays talent after talent, is intellectual and is lusted for by the boys. As the story develops we see this novelty begin to fade and the girls show resentment for Carolyn and what she represents, namely the way she highlights the backwardness of their own town. This brings out their insecurities.
Brand prevalence is striking in the beginning but tails off as you get deeper into the book. This may be because as the girls get to know more about Carolyn they stop relying so much on assumptions relating to her brands. Their obsession with brands, which they often mention they do not own themselves, helps create this built up value and idolisation of Carolyn which leads to her later downfall.
The narrators are unreliable in an obvious way. They talk a lot about what 'they say' but often will tell a story and the differing gossip which chinese whisper-ed from it. They offhandedly repeat anything they hear. This demonstrations the culture of the high school, no one wanted to be the one to speak out and set the record straight. They're happier having a new piece of gossip to mindlessly chatter.
As the bullying escalates so too does the girls sympathy for the bullies. This protection foreshadows the events to come. After Carolyn's suicide all of America looks onto their town with critic and disgust and the justifications from our narrators become stronger. Stepping back, we can see why they might do this. On a personal level, our narrators are the people who prop the popular few up in the pyramid of social hierarchy and the ones at the top are the reason Carolyn kills herself. Had they spoken out and broken social order the stability and power the bullies had, which allowed them to so mercilessly torment Carolyn, would have been broken. Indirectly our narrators are responsible for her death.
On a broader look the disgust shown by the country through the media is a reflection on the girls themselves. Their town is a part of them and its faults are their faults. Though they mock it they embrace its ideal and traditions.
Their guilt shows through references to councillors and their story-telling. Often they say they were watching Carolyn with concern or that they wanted to call her over, in actuality they did nothing and it's this silence that helped create Carolyn's isolation. However, they justify themselves by claiming that they had good intentions.
The book was like being in a meadow: enjoyable yet boring. Bannon's writing skills creates vivid mental images that easily sucks the reader in but she fails to stir up any lasting interest. There's no mystery in the book. It's clear from the outset Carolyn is going to kill herself, or at least die, and it's clear that the bullies will be the reason. The entire book was watching this very slowly play out and I mean slowly.
Our narrators are one-dimensional onlookers and the storyline is based completely on Carolyn's death. Sure, there's some revealing text about the town and its culture which goes a way to explain why everyone became so protective after the suicide and why no one stepped in beforehand. It also sheds light on their selective and biased narration. Overall though it doesn't do enough to stir up any interest nor does it spur the reader on to read more. I found this book highly put-downable and I can't stress enough how far a cry it is from The Virgin Suicides. There is no mystery, no suspense, no questioning.
Was it an enjoyable read though? Page to page yes, as a book no. I neither regret reading it nor do I regret buying it but there's nothing within its pages that would make me want to recommend it.