I’ve read Gone Girl, so when I went into this book, I knew what to expect – seriously evil characters, and a dark, twisty plot.
I also knew that this was Gillian Flynn’s first book, and I went into it expecting some flaws, and blunt edges. In both areas, this book worked for me as expected.
Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town.
Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly.
Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.
~ Synopsis from goodreads
First up, I am going to obsess on here about how I loved the atmosphere in this book. I loved how she set up the creepy, small-town atmosphere, how some basic human needs – such as the need to fit in, have sex, boyfriends, suburban dreams, be the cool girl, and so on, which, if taken to extremes gets twisted into violence towards the self and others.
Camille Preaker – the heroine of the tale is a wretched girl, broken by her family, and the town. She has managed to carve out some semblance of an existence in Chicago, but when she comes back to town to investigate the serial murders, she struggles to keep up her sanity.
The book starts out slowly unveiling bits of her personality (and that of her mother and sister) at a time. In the beginning, she appears like most other girls who leave small-town Americana, reluctant to go back and face the supposed boredom and pettiness. But as the book proceeds, you can see how mentally fragile and unstable she really is.
I am in two minds over this characterization of Camille and this influences my opinion on the rest of the book as well. Somehow, I just didn’t buy Camille’s deterioration in character. Agreed, her family is toxic, and so is the town. But a woman in her 30s, well, I somehow expected her to have the inbuilt resources in her to manage her emotions better. She seemed to regress in maturity as the book progressed. When her mom clearly does not want her around, she still stays at her place. Her mother is unloving and creepy, but still she hankers after her affection competing with and feeling jealous of her thirteen year old half-sister. And the bonding between Camille and her sister really gave me the shivers.
Just as bad is Camille’s choice of romantic relationships. But let’s not get into that, otherwise this review will just run on and on.
So, yes, I found this book’s obsession with dark themes overly dramatic, hysterical, and a bit too much overall. That said, I still found myself reading this avidly through the night, basically just inhaling all that atmospheric writing, about beautiful people doing evil, twisted, despicable, and unbelievable things to themselves and each other.
So, yup, it’s one of those books that doesn’t stand up to critical thinking, logic, and so on, but if you are in the mood for an atmospheric, seriously screwy book, then this is the book for you.
General Thoughts on Gillian Flynn
This is the second book of hers I’ve read, and I can already detect a theme running through her writing – southern settings, small-town prejudices, feminist view points. In Gone Girl, the tone of the book is stridently feminist, but in Sharp Objects, the tone is mixed. There is confusion among the women about what constitutes a feminist, and what doesn’t, and I found this indecision very interesting.
The women in the book though are not as varied as I’d like. They were all awful characters – self-loathing and hateful to everyone else. It’s another reason I can’t whole-heartedly endorse this book. It would have been nice to at least have one or two characters be nice. Camille is nice, of course, but she is way too much of a door-mat to be anything but nice.
I was naturally curious about Flynn herself because of these themes in the book, and I came across this series of quotes from her, which kind of explain where she’s coming from.
The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. People will dismiss trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad, and selfish. I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains – good, potent female villains.
Fair enough. But I do hope that her other books are a bit more nuanced than this one.
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.