Book review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Content Warning: Discussion of Self Harm
Whether it be Gone Girl or the new TV series of the same name, Gillian Flynn’s dark work is permeating Hollywood. No novel better captures Flynn’s darkly cynical horror than Sharp Objects. The novel is the story of Camille Preaker, a journalist who returns home to write an investigative piece about the murder of local girls. Camille has long imagined words appearing on her skin and in an act of self-harm, carved these into her skin. While staying in the small town of Wind Gap, Camille comes back into the world of her obsessive mother, Adora. Keen to prove to her editor that she can handle the stress of the assignment, Camille is plunged into the darkness of her past.
Many of Flynn’s usual tropes are present in Sharp objects. A small, rural backwater setting. A central mystery. Violence visited upon women. Perhaps chief among these, however, is a heroine with less than perfect circumstances and assertive approaches to other characters (which sometimes degenerates into downright snark). As Ben Affleck once commented about Gone Girl’s storyline in an interview promoting that particular Flynn adaptation, the notion of the protagonist often overlooks how imperfect people are, presenting events from the standpoint that they can do no wrong.
Sharp Objects may be best described as part body horror-part murder mystery. As Camille (acting as a cipher for the reader) gets closer to the truth, her skin literally crawls with words. Flynn’s descriptions manage to replicate this sensation in the reader in ways that defy simple description. As such, the book can make for dark reading and is not recommended for anyone to whom this sounds unhelpful. That said, it is also worthwhile that a novel explore these themes and brings them out from the shadows, where they can be discussed and destigmatised.
With Sharp Objects now adapted to a mini-series, it is worth reading the novel before watching the show. (Insights will have our follow-up review of the show once we have had a chance to see all of it).
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Lifeline – 13 11 14
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor