Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

Those of you who’ve heard of Gillian Flynn will probably know her as the author of the popular thriller Gone Girl. I read and was amazed by it a year and a half ago, and read another of her novels, Dark Places (which is being adapted into a Charlize Thereon film), shortly afterward. I received Sharp Objects for Christmas from my sister, and I read it in a day. I couldn’t put it down.

Sharp Objects is about an reporter who returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two young girls. Like most of Flynn’s protagonists (all, in fact, except arguably Amy Dunne), Camille Preaker has had a somewhat disturbed and traumatic childhood, with the death of her younger sister and a history of self-harm. Her relationship with her parents is difficult to say the least, and home seems to contain nothing but bad memories.

So how does Sharp Objects differ from Flynn’s other works? (I won’t say ‘previous’, as it’s actually her first novel.) There are some common themes: difficult parental relationships, childhood trauma, signs of alcohol dependency and a character returning from a big city to suburban Middle America. Like most writers, Flynn’s work has characteristic common themes, but that doesn’t mean all three novels are the same. There’s a sickness at the heart of the Preaker family about which I’ve never previously read in any literature, for one. Although the nature of the crime may at first seem similar to Dark Places, it occurs for vastly different reasons. The focus of Sharp Objects is far more upon familial relationships than romantic ones, and the focus on personal history is altered; it’s all about returning to somewhere that haunts you, rather than merely recalling memories. The characters of this novel are equally as interesting and twisted as those in Gone Girl, but they’re also vastly different. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call Sharp Objects more disturbing than GG.

A lot of people trash thrillers as lowbrow fiction, but Flynn’s work is very clever. Twists and turns are what she’s good at, and her writing style is so easy yet engaging that you really get that “just one more chapter” feel. Her depictions of mental illness, marriage, teenage behaviour and family life are insightful and very believable; she’s had to deny accusations that some of her work is autobiographical, so close to the mark is her writing. You plunge right into the twisted world she creates, and you lap it up.

What I love about this novel is the clever way Flynn makes us realise things. Camille puts together the pieces and slowly, almost unconsciously, becomes aware of some unpleasant family truths and Flynn’s skilled, subtle reveal means that we become gradually aware in the same way the protagonist does. I also enjoy that the twists and turns keep going until the last minute- just as you think everything’s sorted, it’s all turned on its head once more. I finished the novel with that ‘mind blown!‘ feeling I love so much, that Gone Girl delivered but Dark Places didn’t quite.

If there’s one criticism I have to make, it’s the way Flynn tries to make self-harm seem artistic, even romantic, at times. Camille carves words into her body, something which I have never heard of a self-harmer doing, although I am far from an expert on the topic and could be wrong about this. Her reason for cutting certainly seems profoundly unrealistic: trying to ‘trap the words’, rather than an outlet for personal pain, a way of feeling something or of taking control (although, to be fair, one could argue that these other reasons are implied). Trying to ‘trap the words’ and feel them wasn’t credible, and seemed like an attempt to be poetic and profound. Camille even as a sexual experience where a man ‘reads’ her, and it comes off as a twistedly romantic encounter. Not only was this a dubious way of tackling a sensitive and important issue, from a literary point of view I also felt that it was rather heavy-handed.

In general, however, Sharp Objects is a fantastically addictive book; I can’t decide whether or not I prefer it to Gone Girl. I didn’t leave the house all day and read it in under twelve hours. I have no regrets.

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Size 14 Is Not Fat Either

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Size 14 Is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot

Now this is a perfect holiday read! Heather Wells, residence hall worker and part-time sleuth is back for a second instalment (the first being Size 12 Is Not Fat) in which she has gained weight (hence the title), is trying to build bridges with her estranged father, still hasn’t managed to make Cooper (oh Cooper!) fall for her and finds herself investigating another, darker murder. To top it all off, she’s going to have to take a maths course before they let her enrol at the university.

The novel is written in Cabot’s usual, bubbly, girly, easy-to-read style. This time, Heather is less outraged with the branding of the ‘average American woman’ as ‘fat’ and is more annoyed that everyone keeps telling her to keep her nose out of the latest grisly murder in the Death Dorm, because there’s no way she wants to go after someone who likes decapitating cheerleaders, but she finds that she can’t help herself. The crime in this novel is much darker and requires even more bravery on Heather’s part; she walks in on a grisly stabbing and eventually uncovers a very dark and dangerous fraternity circle. This time, too, the killer is not someone who Heather knows at the start of the book, which removed some of the fun, I felt, but it was probably just as well- how many killers can the staff of one dormitory (sorry Heather, I mean residence hall) have?

As well as the crime, there is also some romance. At times I thought that Cooper liked Heather but at other times I almost wanted her to get back with her shallow but loveable ex, Jordan, who skis across New York during a snow storm to see her (even if he is drunk when he does it). Heather also manages to attract the attention of a college student, who she promises she’ll go on a date with in two years’ time, once he’s graduated.

What really makes this book, however, is the loveable protagonist. Even when everyone asks her to keep her nose out and laughs at her, she is undeterred. She is brave, kind-hearted and funny, even if she does have an overly large soft spot for dove bars (or galaxy bars, as they’re called in the good ol’ UK). The introduction of her father also made for some comic moments- especially when Heather walks in on him doing the downward facing dog!

Whilst Size 14 Is Not Far Either isn’t going to be winning the Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, it’s a great holiday read, perfect for taking your mind off of the discomfort of sun beds! I read it in a day as it’s so easy to read and it was a welcome refreshment after reading The Poisonwood Bible, I can tell you!

Have YOU read any of the Heather Wells mysteries? Please let me know in a comment!

Hide and Seek…

Hide and Seek (a Lying Game novel) by Sara Shepard

I got into the Lying Game series around a year ago, since I’m a big fan of the Pretty Little Liars television series. It’s trashy on one level but also a great mystery on the other- you can just tell that some really messed-up truths are lurking behind Sutton Mercer’s perfect façade of lies. Although it’s very hard to guess exactly what’s been going on (this book certainly contains a revelation that I didn’t expect), there’s one person who was obviously involved in Sutton’s murder.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN. It’s the perfect crime. He obviously would have known the alarm code in his own home and been able to navigate it in the dark and Emma saw him on her first day in Tucson, when he was supposed to be in Tokyo. Plus, he’s friends with Sutton’s father, which means that something could have happened- perhaps Sutton found out something about Mr. C that he didn’t want her to know- his daughter seems to think he’s having an affair. However, Mr. Chamberlain was surprised and even unnerved to see “Sutton” when Emma first meets him, whereas if he had been the killer he wouldn’t have reacted like this, because he would have been the one who lured her to Tucson in the first place. It doesn’t all quite add up, but Mr. C definitely has something to hide. Plus, this is the way in which Shepard writes- it’s always a shocker. I managed to guess who ‘A’ was in Pretty Little Liars fairly early on, just because I figured it would be the least obvious person- and Mr. C only gets a couple of mentions in every book; not often enough to make him a prime suspect, but frequently enough to lay a few clues. I also think Ethan might possibly have something to do with it- but that may just be me being paranoid?

Sleuthing aside, this is a great continuation of a gripping series. I would say it’s definitely aimed at teenage girls but that doesn’t mean that any mystery fan can’t enjoy it!

Have YOU read any of The Lying Game novels? What did you think? Who do you think the killer is? How long before it is revealed? Please let me know!

“I haven’t felt this ostracised since I was the skinniest girl at fat camp.” – Charlotte Chamberlain