When Karen Slaughter came to the BPL earlier this summer, she sang the praises of Gillian Flynn, who was in attendance. Flynn was one of those authors I was a fan of without ever having read her. Let me explain.
In my line of work, I am expected to suggest books and authors which I have never read myself. Oh, now you know the RAs dark, dirty secret. We cannot possibly read every book, but we can know a lot about a wide range of books. Flynn fits into that second category. She is an author who style and tone I knew, thus leading me to steer certain readers to her novels, but I had never actually read more than an excerpt. Often that is enough though for us to do our job-- matching readers with the perfect book.
Flynn has been such a solid standby for the "not quite horror" fan: those who want the tension, macabre happenings, and creepy atmosphere, but do not want supernatural monsters. In fact, Flynn will be featured in my new book as a sure bet psychological suspense author for horror fans.
I have handed out the two books (soon to be three) of this Chicago author to patrons many times, and each time I have gotten positive feedback about her stories and style. After exchanging emails with her before the Slaughter event and then meeting her (she is super nice and down to earth by the way), I figured I no longer had an excuse not to read her for myself. So I got both Sharp Objects and Dark Places on audio. I began with her debut novel, Sharp Objects and I am happy to report it was as good as I had advertised.
Sharp Objects is narrated by a very troubled young woman in her early thirties, Camille. She is still recovering from a very serious self mutilation mental illness. She is currently a reporter for a 3rd tier newspaper in Chicago. She also happens to be from a small, rural Missouri town (Wind Gap) where a serial killer is targeting adolescent girls. Camille's father-figure editor sends her home to cover the story. However, Camille is completely out of touch with her family, especially her mother, and her homecoming is not positive for her recovery.
Appeal: What follows is a haunting story. The reader is privy both to Camille's mental unravelling and the slow discovery of who is responsible for the murders. Readers who want a fast paced suspense tale will be disappointed. But readers (like myself) who want a complicated, psychological, tense story with an extremely flawed narrator and one messed up family will love this novel. The book is intense from page one. The sense of unease literally permeates and fills every crack in the book.
While there are a few graphic descriptions of the murderer's MO (he/she removes all of the victim's teeth), the real troubling issues in this book come from Camille's own illness and what she finds out about her family. The long drawn out investigation also adds to the dark, tense atmosphere of the story. This is as close as you can get to a horror novel without the monsters.
Although I suspected the killer from about the halfway point, Flynn expertly folded the plot over on itself so many times that I was beginning to spiral with Camille and starting thinking like her. So, when the end came, I was almost as devastated as Camille. I need to emphasize this point more. Camille is a great character. We know she is flawed from the start. We know we shouldn't trust her. We see her make terrible decisions. But Flynn slowly builds our sympathy for her, so that by the novel's end, I was in her head, agreeing with her reasoning. Not a good move because Flynn knew she does this to the reader and then, she drops the ending on us and we are reminded just how flawed Camille and her reasoning really are. The end was shocking, but not out of left field. Very satisfying.
I should say again, this is a twisted book. Even though there are bloodier books, the psychological aspects play with the reader and many may find it too disturbing.
Three Words That Describe This Book: unease, psychological, family dysfunction
Readalikes: As I have said already, this is a great example of psychological suspense for anyone whose tastes lead toward horror. The emotional pull of the story is its key. Readers need to be okay with suspense stories that have a flawed narrator, and situations in which bad things will and do happen.
Authors I would suggest who fit this bill are: Tana French, Jennifer Egan, Chelsea Cain, Sarah Waters, Benjamin Black, Peter Abrahams. For the authors I have written about on my blogs, the link will lead to a longer discussion.
NoveList had a bunch of Mary Higgins Clark books as readalike suggestions, but I would NOT suggest those. This is a much darker book than Higgins Clark writes.
Some readers may also want to know more about self mutilation or Muchausen Syndrome by Proxy after reading Sharp Objects.
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