When you truly, truly love a book – when you’ve read it cover to cover and back again, and until the spine is starting to split – you begin to see the entire world through that narrative. You start to recognise crucial locations of that story in your own city.
I realised that The Lisbon Sisters from The Virgin Suicides are very much real in this city, and that people are still not taking their concerns or their troubles all that seriously, and that Russian classic Anna Karenina becomes a satire on W.A.G and tabloid culture when you relocate it to the haunts of the Scousewives.
Words and Drawings by Amy Roberts (with thanks to my girl Laura Outterside for being my books & booze buddy x)
Characters: The Lisbon Sisters
Book: The Virgin Suicides
Author: Jeffery Eugenides
Original setting: Grosse Point, Michigan
“Everyone dated the demise of our neighbourhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls…”
Cecilia was the first to go. At 13, she first attempted death with razors across the wrists. But, unsuccessful, she later jumped from the top window of the family house where she successfully and fatally impaled herself on the front fence (exhibit #2: fence piece).
Following the suicide of their youngest sister, the remaining four sisters – who were fourteen (Lux), fifteen (Bonnie), sixteen (Mary) and seventeen (Therese) – became disconnected from their peers and their schooling, whilst their home life became a staple of consistent local gossip in the area where they were to live out their short lives (Calderstones Road, and onwards to Allerton, Toxteth and Aigburth).
The four girls began wearing a uniform of black and started hanging out outside of The Law Courts and on Chevasse Park where they swigged the vodka and cheap wine that Therese bought for all of them from the offy. Mary once dyed her hair green in the toilets of Grand Central.
They spent as many nights as possible in the notorious city centre ‘alternative’ nightclub The Krazy House where a slew of teenage boys and men old enough to know better pursued and worshiped the sisters. There are love notes from this period (exhibit #4) in which men have written their numbers on the back of Smirnoff Ice bottle labels followed by meet up points and times (exhibit #4.6: “The Swan, tomorrow, 7:30. I’ll be sat in the corner listening to Sabbath”).
This was an activity that was reciprocated and encouraged whole heartedly by Lux, who at one point didn’t return home for an entire weekend but was eventually driven back by police who found her passed out and deeply inebriated in a stair well of a nightclub on Duke Street. Rumour has it that a drag queen called Lola who used to work the door at Society found her there and had called an ambulance because she ‘thought she was dead’ (exhibit #9).
Mr and Mrs Lisbon became increasingly reclusive following this event, and in an attempt to protect their remaining daughters from the rest of the World locked the house (and the internet connection) down into maximum security isolation and pulled the girls from school.
And then it didn’t take long for it to happen. Pills. Noose. Carbon monoxide. Oven. From four they had become zero – the living to the dead.
After the free reign of the suicides, Mr and Mrs Lisbon gave away everything they owned and sold the house to a young couple from Kensington. Allegedly they moved into an undisclosed location on the Wirral where they could ‘be alone, for all time’. The school across the road from the old Lisbon home put in a memorial flower bed (exhibit #12: photograph) in respect to the tragedy. There’s a rumour going round that teenagers have started having unprotected sex on the memorial piece because ‘there’s no way of knocking a bird up there since nothing survives on Lisbon land’.
Character: Anna Karenina
Book: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Original setting: Moscow / St Petersberg
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content”.
Anna became the center of national and local scandal after leaving her husband – a well known and respected politician – for an equally wealthy, but notoriously skirt chasing younger model in the shape of (likely premiership footballer) Vronksy. She immediately moved to Liverpool to be with him, and was overheard in hair salon Herberts harping on with grandiose statements about love filling her soul and the sacrifices for happiness. Keen to cash in on what seemed to be a predictable set up for derision, the rabid tabloids pounced on Anna as the new scurrilous It Girl du jour – eager to document and also instigate her messy demise.
Despite having it all – a massive house in Woolton, a never ending disposable income, free unlimited supplies of botox and a possible new reality TV show in the works – Anna still desperately missed the stability and social contacts of her old life. Sure, she had love but what of its reality? Despite her social position, and despite her money, the world still looked on her as being trash, and of ill, despicable and questionable morals. Proper women shouldn’t act in such a way, said Daily Mail and Express editorials for many months to come.
As a result of such pressures and public ruination, her partying spiraled out of control and further isolated her from the life she once knew and the life she craved to sustain with Vronsky. She lived it up with cocktails at Mosquito, champagne by the bucket in Circo, and a private booth in the Newz Bar. She attended Ladies Day at Chester races – spending the morning prior enjoying a champagne breakfast at the London Carriage Works with women of similarly wealthy but ill repute – before watching her partner’s horse fall at the first hurdle and eventually get put down.
Anna was caught between light and shade – a position where she could have everything, but also nothing. Her ex husband played his position – and that of Anna - up in the tabloids. She can always come back he kept saying but only if she stops the lies and deceit. Anything is better than lies and deceit! These were posted amongst shots of Anna – wild eyed and alone, platform heels in hand – wandering listlessly along the docks.
She even appeared as herself in several episodes of the soap Hollyoaks, leaving with the immortal line – once famously uttered by her once husband - Love those who hate you. She was not critically celebrated for her performance.
And then rumours began to circulate of Vronsky’s various infidelities. He was hardly ever home, and Anna began suspecting him of failing in love or lust with every younger version of herself that she came across. I feel a fool – as though I’ve given up everything for nothing! she glumly told her brother between mouthfuls of Key Lime Pie and a Cafe Cubano in Alma De Cuba one wretched lunchtime.
It was during this time that she began having recurring dreams about falling beneath the wheels of a locomotive. She would throw herself down onto the tracks into crimson and darkness. In her bag she always kept a small stash of cocaine neatly wrapped up inside a small vintage tobacco tin with a steam train on the lid and when she held the tin up to her ear like a shell she could hear the steam rising from the engine.