Book reviews: Sharp Objects & Dark Places

Friday, April 18, 2014 Permalink

After my less-than-glowing review of Gillian Flynn’s (much-lauded) Gone Girl, it was with minimal but hopeful enthusiasm I started on her first novel, Sharp Objects.

And. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. I also enjoyed Dark Places, but not as much as Sharp Objects.

There was so much about the novel that I loved. Firstly, I like Flynn’s writing. Indeed, I really only notice the words themselves if they’re astonishingly beautiful (Tim Winton and Anita Brookner come to mind), funny or clever (Robert B Parker’s Spenser is a great example) or ummmm… awkward or crappy. Good writing, I barely notice… which I think is kinda how it should be.

Sharp Objects

In Sharp Objects, journalist Camille Preaker returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. Camille herself confesses her career is wallowing a little and her editor makes reference to her ‘getting back into things’.

Estranged from her family (and friends) Camille returns to Wind Gap and immediately alienates the local police and her own family through her interest in the case.

However she doggedly hunts down the story, determined not to fail her boss – and what she unearths is far more than she’d anticipated.

Sharp-Objects

Camille’s relationship with her family is an interesting one. She is barely on speaking terms with her eccentric and slightly unhinged mother; a stranger to her step-father (although he’s the only father she’s known); and at a loss at how to deal with her 13 year old prima donna bully of a half-sister.

The antagonism between Camille and her mother is initially bewildering, though we eventually discover that Camille has been battling her own demons, and is finally starting to come out on top.

Damaged and prickly Camille is amazingly likeable. She drinks too much and has a myriad of issues but she’s easy to bond with and we readers are on her side almost immediately. There are a few other players alongside Camille and her family – a Kansas City detective and locals suspected of the murders – however, it’s Camille who holds our attention throughout.

I was so keen to know what happened to these young girls I had to shelve my dinner plans so I could keep reading.

I also needed to know if Charmaine’s half-sister Amma was really as ‘bad’ as she seemed; if her mother would redeem herself; or if her step-father would make his presence felt in some useful way.

There are some interesting twists and turns at the end of the novel and – unlike Gone Girl – there’s a sense that sanity (goodness?) prevails and closure for those of us who need it.

Dark Places

Having enjoyed Sharp Objects so much I picked up Dark Places the next night. The beginning was eerily familiar – a woman who survived the slaughter of her family as a child is running out of trust-fund money and may be forced to find work or do something vaguely productive…. hmmm; but I reminded myself that I was thinking of Lisa Unger’s In the Blood which I read and reviewed recently.

Since turning 18 Libby Day’s lived off a charity set up after the murder of her mother and sisters. The money’s almost gone when Libby (now in her early 30s) is approached by the ghoulish but harmless Lyle (and his ‘Kill Club’ friends) who offer to pay for stories and memorabilia from her past: the famous Kinnakee Kansas Farmhouse Massacre in which Libby’s 15yr old brother Ben killed their mother and two sisters.

It was at this point I realised that I HAD read the novel before. (As it wasn’t documented in Goodreads, it was obviously before I joined in 2012.) Fortunately although it was familiar I didn’t really remember the detail, so I could continue. 🙂

dark-places

Libby agrees to the offer and – sets out to do the group’s bidding but (unlike the Kill Club members) she’s not convinced of her brother’s innocence. After all, she (as a 7yr old) gave testimony which put him behind bars.

But – after visiting her brother for the first time in 25 years, and talking to others from her childhood – Libby starts to unpick the events leading up to the murders and realises that a murderer may have gotten away while her brother wallowed in custody.

Gillian Flynn loves her flawed heroines. Like Gone Girl’s Amy; Sharp Objects’ Camille, Libby has her issues. It’s hard to feel sorry for her however as she admits she’s made little effort throughout her life and believes society ‘owes’ her something. Even the aunt who took her in after the deaths of her family has given up on her.

The search for her family’s murderer changes Libby, but I’m not sure she comes out at the end in a better (less-dark) place. Of course how any of us would react and ‘live’ after such a tragedy is hard to imagine, but… it is really really hard to feel sorry for the adult Libby.

The story unfolds in two timelines with Libby’s investigation complemented by narratives by Libby’s mother and brother Ben on the day of the murders 25 years before. It becomes obvious that there’s more to this case than a devil-worshipping 15yr old who fought with his mother and disliked his sisters.

I enjoyed this dark and bleak novel, but wasn’t transfixed as I was with its Flynn’s first book. Dark Places (and Gone Girl) however, are both good enough to reassure me that I’ll probably continue to enjoy Flynn’s future offerings.

BTW, I’m one a gazillion people nominated in the 2014 Australia’s Best Blog People’s Choice Award… if you’d like to click here (or on the button in the left hand sidebar) you can vote for me (debbish dot com), which would be much appreciated.

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