Susie Salmon, the book's narrator, is a girl who's been murdered: from her heaven, she tells us about it, and reports on the subsequent events as her family and friends attempt to come to terms with losing her.
An interesting conceit, although for much of the book it seemed a bit unneccessary. Forget that it's Susie talking, and you might as well be listening to a story told by an omniscient narrator: Susie knows what people are doing/thinking/feeling, and also conveniently knows everything relevant about their past lives (e.g. stuff like "When Harry was a young boy, he'd once...."). It wasn't entirely clear how this worked, and didn't seem very consistent: there was one occasion when she was talking about her mother seeing someone doing something on the beach, and neither of them (Susie or mother) knew what they were watching. Also, other people in heaven would sometimes ask Susie to questions about what was happening on earth. But towards the end of the book, there is a kind of breaking of the fourth wall, which does require Susie's involvement.
Susie is very vague about what heaven is like, which is the right approach I think. In fact heaven is sort of incidental: the story is really about what's happening in the world of the living, and that story is a pretty good one: not just the events, but the way the characters react and develop in response to them is quite compelling and involving. Sebold does have some nice insights into people's feelings and behaviours.
I don't think though, that without idea of Susie telling the story from heaven, this would have been such a successful book: the writing is quite good, but not top-notch (e.g. nowhere near as good as Anne Tyler). Worth reading, but probably not worth re-reading.
Completed : 14-Jan-2009 (audiobook)