Review: Sharp Objects; Gillian Flynn

An unsettling read- 3.5 stars

Source- borrowed from a friend (library copy)

Phoenix Publishing- 2006 (a division of Orion Books)

Paperback- 321 pages

For me, ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn is the stand out best thriller I have read so far this year. I confess that it took me a little while to get into, but I loved it for its clever twists, intricately drawn characters and its subtly brilliant ending. I promised myself after reading it that I would eventually get around to trying some of Flynn’s other novels.

‘Sharp Objects’ is Gillian Flynn’s debut.  Though the premise sounded really intriguing and there was a lot of hype around it when it was published, I sensed from the start that I wouldn’t quite enjoy this book as much as Gone Girl- and ultimately I was proven to be correct. That’s not to say it’s a bad read- it was pretty gripping in parts actually- it was just a bit too unsettling for my tastes.

The book’s main protagonist is journalist Camille Preaker, a reporter for a downmarket Chicago newspaper who is encouraged by her editor to return to her small Missouri hometown to investigate the murder of two little girls. It’s been eight years since Camille was last in Windy Gap and some things have changed, but others not so much. Her estranged mother is still a neurotic, attention-seeking hypochondriac and now her half sister Amma has grown up to be a precocious flirt, who seems to have a strange sway over the other teenage girls in the town.

As Camille reluctantly investigates the disturbing murders of the two young girls, she is forced to confront the darkness of her own past, including the tragic death of her other sister Marion more than two decades earlier- and what really happened to her. She must also face up to her own personal demons and address the challenging relationship she has with her mother, Adora.

Though I didn’t find this to be a completely engrossing psychological thriller, I did find it readable for the most part. The short, terse sentences that the author has chosen to write in add a fast pace to the narrative as well as being symbiotic of Camille’s journalistic nature. Almost from the very start of the book, as a reader you are aware of the painfully awkward family dynamics that practically seeps from the pages. Factor into this the disturbing nature of the little girls’ abductions and subsequent murders and the burgeoning darkness of the story is immediately apparent.

This story was quite slow burning in places- some aspects took a long time to get going and certain things about Camille and her mother and sister for example, were unveiled quite slowly. This added a certain drama and made me as a reader, question the reliability of the characters who always seemed to be holding back personal secrets. This was a similar device used in Gone Girl and did make me wonder as to whether all was what it seemed and to what else would continue to be discovered through the story.

There were however aspects that I really disliked about this book- in particular I seemed to find it went a bit downhill towards its last third and disintegrated into full on drugs and debauchery, before picking itself up again towards the end. It did feel a bit clichéd in places too- with some small town stereotypes that left me wincing- gossipy women in particular and some of Camille’s friends who had never left the town in which they grew up and had seemingly transitioned into their own mothers. Though this gossip was admittedly needed, in order to allude to everyone being a potential suspect in the little girls’ murders, I just think it came across as a bit fake. To be honest, I can’t actually think of one character in this book I liked either.

Without giving anything away, though I found the ending of this novel to be well done- it ultimately disturbed me. There was what I thought was the final dénouement and then a sudden twist- which was successfully done- but just felt wrong somehow- and with not a whole lot of explanation given afterwards. I would have liked to have something more I suppose, but that’s down to personal preference.

As far as thrillers go, this was satisfying- but unfortunately as not edge-of-your-seat amazing as I had hoped. Needless to say, it was her debut and I know Flynn has written at least one utterly fantastic novel since this one, so I am eager to read Dark Places next to see how that one fares in comparison to this.

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