Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What is too sharp, anyway?

Gillian Flynn is a gem. That's why (given that she has so far only published three novels and is busy adapting them into movies) I have decided to savor her books and not devour them all at once. It takes a lot of self control but knowing it's going to be special, is totally worth it. Because there is no doubt in my mind anymore that this lady will produce lots and lots of great terror.
Some dare to put her in the same basket with Harlan Coben, who is a great author and knows how to write but honestly, I can read seven of his books and not know what happened in any of them in the week after I'm done with them. They are thrilling, they pull you in, they are criminally well researched, everything holds, there is nothing wrong with them. They are just not too memorable.

"Sometimes if you let people do things to you, you're really doing it to them."

But Ms. Flynn coaxes you into her world bit by bit, like a mean granny living across the street, who invites you in for some cookies with a smile and a big cup of hot tea and while you're nibbling on them, you realize that the stench you can smell all the while her knitting needles are clicking away, is coming from dead cats that she shoved under the couch you're sitting on. Get the picture? Gillian Flynn will give you an ever present sense of dread that makes you afraid of reading on because you know something really bad is just around the corner but you just simply have to know.

"Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom."

The same thing happens with Sharp Objects, which is her debut novel. That is obvious if you're comparing the story-weaving to Gone Girl but nonetheless quite brilliant. It is much, much darker than Gone Girl. I am not sure how they'd make this one into a movie but I am intrigued because I feel it is bound to happen. It tells the story of a deeply disturbed young girl, who carries secrets no one really knows but many suspect. Camille Preaker is a cutter. But not like a teenage girl's cry for help kind of cutter. No. She went all the way and made her body into art. She (still) cuts words into her skin and there is barely any room left. She is condemned to long sleeves and pants and hiding her wrists from strangers and covering her shoulders and back to not let people know she seeks relief through basically bleeding herself. She works as a reporter, is practically estranged from her family and just back from a short stay at a psychiatric hospital, quickly burdened by a new assignment. Her hometown has suffered the murders of two preteen girls. Because she knows the surroundings, she is sent back and is therefore forced to face her neurotic mother and a strange half-sister that she barely knows. She is also forced to face the ghosts of her past, roaming the mansion of her family and pushed to come to terms with what happened all those many years ago or this will be a homecoming she will not survive.

Everything in this book serves the purpose of release. Or relief. Perhaps catharsis. Conversations, looks, cuts, sex, food. Nothing has any other meaning. The only thing that keeps me from giving this book five stars is a slightly predictable ending which will still, however, leave you feeling chilled to the bone. Poor Camille, so fucked up, she never even really had a chance, did she? But then again, do Gillian's characters ever stand a chance?

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