Intense. Twisted. Disturbing. It would be incredibly easy to keep listing similar adjectives in an attempt to try and sum up this novel, but the truth is, none of them will ever really do it justice. Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s début novel; she is best known for Gone Girl, which was famously adapted into a critically acclaimed film, released in October last year. It would seem Flynn’s novels all conform to a similar genre – psychological thriller – but are all incredibly inventive in their own respect, illustrating her evident talent for creating fresh material that leaves the reader hanging off every word on the page.
The novel follows the account of crime journalist Camille Preaker. She works for an ‘understated’ newspaper based in Chicago, and is sent back to her home town of Wind Gap by her boss to cover the murder of a teenage girl. Upon her arrival, we immediately become aware that Camille hasn’t had the best of relationships with her mother whilst growing up, and they remain very distant from one another, although at first it remains unclear exactly why this is. Worryingly, it doesn’t take long for Flynn to unsettle the reader – maybe it’s the details of the story Camille is covering, or the people inhabiting the bleak town of Wind Gap. No one seems to be completely sane: every character we come across throughout the novel, even the thirteen-year-old kids, have some sort of creepy air about them, as though everyone is hiding something. The story continues to unravel as a second child goes missing and turns up dead with the same ‘injuries’ as the first girl.
We are led by Camille as she interviews friends and family of the two dead girls, and we uncover more about her past and her relationship with her mother and her half-sister Amma. Amma is (arguably) the most unsettling character of them all – she has an unwarranted grip on the town, and it feels as though her every move is deliberately sexualised, her personality sparking a sick curiosity in the reader.
Sharp Objects doesn’t shy away from any topics or themes – it’s hard hitting and honest, dealing with ‘taboo’ issues upfront. Most men in the book are characterized as submissive and emotional – the complete opposite of most portrayals of men we see today – whilst many females are depicted as violent and power-hungry. This challenge of convention furthers the sense of anxiety created by the storyline. Flynn’s writing is astounding, and it is incredibly easy to get swept up in the plot as you try to solve the mystery using the limited clues we are given in Camille’s interviews.
Definitely not for the faint-hearted, Sharp Objects is thought-provoking, emotionally draining and shocking right to the end.
Words by Ruth Grove