Friday, June 06, 2008

Sharp Objects is mesmerizing

There were two reasons I picked up Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects (Shaye Areheart Books, 272 pages).

First, Flynn reviews TV on Entertainment Weekly, which I consume for entertainment, weekly.

Second, the daughter of a reading teacher and a retired film professor, she lives in Chicago, so she earns some home town loyalty.

As it stands, Sharp Objects is a mesmerizing piece of work – slowly building a vibe of dread and almost effortlessly allowing it to unravel the reader.

Sharp Objects is written in first person and tells the story of a reporter, Camille Preacher, who is sent on assignment from a second string newspaper in Chicago to Wind Gap, a small town in Missouri to investigate the killing of a little girl and the mysterious disappearance of another. Shortly after arriving in Wind Gap, the disappearing girl also shows up dead, and just like the first, has been strangled and relieved of all her teeth.

It wouldn’t be out of line to wonder how anyone, especially someone writing her first novel, takes that story and makes it into something special. Here, Flynn does it by making her main protagonist into an enigma. The novel is as much about Camille Preacher as it is about the crimes.

Preacher, as it turns out, is a former resident of Wind Gap. She knows the city and its residents inside out. When in town, she stays with her mother, her step-dad and her thirteen year old step-sister, Amma.

Flynn lines almost everything with vivid psychological detail. Here, Preacher spends her first night in her childhood home after going back to Wind Gap.

Four hours of threadbare sleep, like lying in a bathtub with your ears half submerged. Shooting up in bed every twenty minutes, my heart pounding so hard I wondered if it was the beating that woke me up…..I dreamt my mother was slicing an apple onto thick cuts of meat and feeding it to me, slowly and sweetly,
because I was dying.

The formulaic trappings of a thriller are eschewed here – like cliff hangers that end each chapter. Flynn brings characters into the story in slices and uses this impressionist way of describing them.

She was so insubstantial, I could imagine her slowly evaporating, leaving only a sticky spot on the edge of the sofa.

As she makes her way around Wind Gap, Preacher relives her younger years. We get to discover the dysfunction in her town and her own family. Sharp Objects is as much a thriller about murder as much as it is about the meanness girls and women are capable of inflicting on one another. And writing with a true, organic understanding of women’s psyche, Flynn shows us that Preacher’s anger at her childhood traumas has imploded on her own self.

Her fascination for words, which she was constantly doodling on her body with a pen, morphs into self-mutilation. Preacher starts carving words into her skin. Although she has been to rehab to kick the habit, and hasn’t used any sharp objects for months, scars are revived in terrific, creepy ways. Whenever Preacher is confronted with a situation, a relevant word scarred on her body seems to come to life in her mind, hovering, burning or glowing.

Flynn moves unhurriedly towards her climax, not selling us any dummies. She is assured enough to even solve the puzzle for us as we get close to the end. Although she submits to one mass market somersault in the end, it easy to forgive her. Because, by then, she has delivered a stunner.

You can read Flynn talking about Sharp Objects here.

7 comments:

Over Rated said...

Sounds interesting. I'll pick it up when it's released in India.

Btw aspi, uve got me addicted to ew too ...

p.s. more book reviews!!

Aspi said...

Their Popwatch blog is just as good.

I don't read books enough now that I'm reading a comic a day :(

Cinderella said...

self mutilation is scaryyyyyyy!!

btw is it just me or do i have company in NOT liking 'Five Point Someone'????
i couldn't get past even half the book!!and everyone else who read it said they loved it!am i too odd??

Aspi said...

I've met both kinds of people Cinderella - those that loved it and those that didn't. Most of those who didn't like it are people I like. So you might be on to something.

Pitu said...

The only violence I read, appreciate and participate in involves swords, archery and magic :-D Anything else, I stay away. Far, far, far away. The scariest shit I have ever seen is this crappy Japanese film about these teens who are in a suicide club. And when they die, this psycho skins them and makes these 'rolls' out of the skin :-X

Aspi said...

When I was a kid Prem Chopra used to scare the living daylights out of me. My Dad tells me that as soon as he would appear on screen I would turn to him and say in a shaking voice "Dad, whose khoon will he do this time?"

pitu said...

khoon will he do... lol