23 January 2014

Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects (2006)

My literary diet these days largely consists of French books, although I was interested to learn what the fuss was about with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which quite impressed me, so I decided to have a go at this earlier work, which is in fact her first novel.

The similar themes between Gone Girl interested me here, and to start with we have the movement from a large urban area to a rural one – here the thirty-year-old Camille Preaker, a rather unsuccessful journalist with a little-known Chicago newspaper is sent to check out the murder of a young girl in the imaginary small town of Wind Gap, Missouri, where she grew up.

Soon after she arrives there's another murder of a young girl, which, like the first murder, involves the extraction of the girl's teeth after her death. We're obviously dealing with a crazy person here, and as it increasingly seems that the primary suspect John Keene is a mere red herring and that the person whodunit is a woman, we're perhaps in the mad woman territory of Gone Girl. Well, yes, only several women here are pretty mad.

Camille is in fact a huge mess from a very dysfunctional family. She is now investigating the murders while living with that family, which includes the mother who's never loved her, the step-father she doesn't really know, and her extremely precocious thirteen-year-old half-sister who is attracted to drugs, sex, and things no one of any age should be attracted to.

Camille is traumatised by her mother's behavior, and by the early death of her younger sister Marian. She hasn't had sex for ten years largely because she used to self-harm, carving a large number of words on herself until almost the only parts of her body that are untouched are her hands and face. Very uneasy now that she's back 'home', she does a lot of drinking while she's investigating, just to attempt to maintain an equilibrium.

This was first published in 2006 but the lack of modern technology makes it read as if it were written (or at least started) some time before: the only reference to the internet, for instance, is right at the end, and that just reads as if it was thrown in as an afterthought. Detective Steve (recruited from Kansas) seems to be the only person with a cell phone: in the USA of the early 21st century? Uh-uh, not even 'in the boot heel [of Missouri]. Spitting distance from Tennessee and Arkansas.' (Cell phones, of course, pose a huge problem in modern novels: life was much more difficult for fictional characters before these pesky devices came along and ruined a good plot.)

Ten-year moratorium on sex or not, Camille manages it with two people in little Wind Gap – almost fully-clothed with Steve (so he won't see all the self-inflicted tattoos, of course), and fully naked with young John Keene (two outsiders relating to each other). Mere respite from the pain.

She discovers that her mother has Munchausen by Proxy, and not only killed Marian but also the two girls. Oh, hang on a minute, that's wrong, as she only killed Marian – it was in fact Amma, with a little help from her friends, who killed the girls.

That final piece of information was a last twist I could have done without, and for me it sent the whole thing into outer space. Which is a pity, as I thought it was fine as it was with just the mother as the killer.

My other Flynn post is below:

Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl (2012)

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