I’ll cut straight to the chase (no pun intended): Sharp Objects is brilliant. I’m talking both the show and the book, which I recommend wholeheartedly. This rec will focus more on the book just because I want a little diversity when it comes to the mediums I’m dealing with here, but the mini-series is just as great. I mean, how could it not be? It stars Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson.
In short, Sharp Objects tells the story of journalist Camille Preaker, who returns to her suffocating hometown to cover a serial murder case, but she soon learns that in order to find answers about the case, she has to deal with her own past traumas.
This is Gillian Flynn’s first novel, and boy what a strong debut. The apparent ease with which the words flow off the pages makes one think writing this story must’ve been effortless, although as writers we know that’s not quite true. Still, Flynn’s writing, especially through Camille’s voice, is seamless, raw, evocative and provocative. The heavy importance of words in the piece (as Camille makes them a part of her) is only the cherry on top of already beautifully-built novel. If words are a person’s most powerful weapon, then Flynn’s are lethal.
Camille is a flawed heroine, but her voice and personality are addictive. The book is un-put-downable in part because of how Camille draws you in, lets you see inside her mind, takes you along on her journey of reminiscing and healing and makes you privy to extremely personal stuff. Although influenced by Amy Adams’ portrayal, I’m sure had I read the book first, Camille would be just as full of life and clear to envision even without the mini series’ visual aid. She’s fascinating in her wit, empathy and apathy, she’s strong, she’s vulnerable, she’s popular, she’s a pariah. She embodies contrast and conflict perfectly, and she’s only part of an ensemble of captivating characters!
Camille’s relationship with her mother, Adora, is one of the driving forces of the story, as the longer Camille has to stay at home, the more her past unravels. Adora Crellin is a filthy rich woman, adored by her town, shining with perfection. Behind closed doors and through Camille, we get to see that’s not quite so. Adora is bothered by her daughter’s interest in the murders of the two little girls, bothered by her writing about them, bothered by her asking people about them, bothered by her in general really. As Adora has another 14 year old daughter, Amma, her sentiments don’t seem misplaced, but Adora is no ordinary mother. She uses the sorrow and tragedy to gain sympathy, to coddle and play victim, she cares deeply but for all the wrong reasons. Her dynamic with Camille, who’s always wished for her mother’s love and sparsely got it, is excellent because it’s so littered with conflict, be it for who the two are as people, what their main goal is, or what happened in the past.
An equally fascinating lady is Amma, whose duality is to die for. At home she plays the quiet, nice girl, a child playing with doll houses and sweet talking her mother. Outside of Adora’s territory, she’s a feral, mean girl, who has no qualms about having sex, getting drunk or doing drugs at her age. She’s a bully and an attention seeker, but she grows close to Camille, especially as they both feel the gap their other sister left when she died (before Amma was born, while Camille was still a kid). She’s the perfect catalyst to an already weakened and anxious Camille, and is what pushes the action forward and takes Camille over the edge and into the discovery of the truth.
The fact that the story relies heavily on the relationship between these three women, as well as their individual psychology, is incredibly refreshing to see, especially since story-telling (or mainstream storytelling, at least) is so used to putting men at the forefront. Flynn portrays women as sexual beings, as monsters, as friends, drunks, mothers, sisters, victims, abusers, and the realness of it all is beautiful.
The characters aren’t the only ones full of life though. The setting plays quite a big role in how the story manages to work as well as it does. Camille’s hometown practically has a life of its own, or as lively as it can be considering its state. It’s the dynamics of this small town that puts pressures on Camille, with everyone knowing each other, her mother being such an influential resident, her former friends judging her lifestyle and gossip travelling at the speed of light. It’s such a suffocating place to be, with its sweltering heat and power plays, that you can’t help but feel just as stuck as Camille.
When it comes to the case itself, you’ll be taken on a wild ride, especially in the last part of the book. I won’t say much more than this because it’ll ruin everything, but the foreshadowing done here is extremely well woven in, and will definitely give you chills. Although it loses some impact if you watch the show first (or if you read the book first, then the show won’t be as shocking), seeing it done and spotting the clues is still incredibly fun. It’s not an outrageous plot twist, it’s earned and built all throughout the book, but it’ll surprise you nonetheless.
This is a wonderful crime thriller that goes beyond investigation and into retrospection, familial issues and psychology, and is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Or ever. You might know Gillian Flynn as the mastermind behind Gone Girl as well, so perhaps with that connection in mind you’ll give this a try. As far as books go, this one is memorable and a must-have for your library.
As always, thank you for reading, and see you next week!