Book Review: Sharp Objects

‘To say this a terrific debut novel is really too mild’ – Stephen King

I first read Sharp Objects after reading Gone Girl, due to the hype the film adaptation generated. Gillian Flynn’s writing introduced me to a style of thriller I now seek out by other authors too such as Paula Hawkins, Peter James and of course, more Stephen King.

Sharp Objects is the shortest of Flynn’s three novels, but is by far my favourite. I’ve only owned a copy of Sharp Objects for a few years and yet I’ve already reread it around 4 or 5 times.*

*Rereading novels is incredibly rare for me.

Sharp Objects is about a journalist called Camille Preaker, who is tasked with returning to the town where she grew up to uncover the mystery behind the murder of two young girls. Camille has barely spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother in years, but on returning to the town, finds herself reliving the psychological scars of her past in order to uncover the truth about the girls’ murders.

Warning: Sharp Objects, as one may be able to discern from the title and some book covers, deals with sensitive issues such as self-harm, abuse, and emotionally manipulative behaviour. If these are issues that may distress you, this is probably not the book for you.

I thought the pacing was good; on the shorter side, at 321 pages long, it means time is used efficiently. Flynn doesn’t write unnecessarily lengthy scenes and what is included adds to the story – both Camille’s own journey of recovery as well as the murder mystery.

I love the build-up and climax of this book, and every discovery Camille made was thrilling to me – even when I reread the novel now, I still get excited when the crucial plot points are revealed.

Furthermore, I empathise with the plight of Camille: a journalist struggling with the use of self-harm as a coping mechanism to combat the traumas placed on her as a child. I want to be a “proper” writer or journalist someday, and although I was never traumatised as a child, I understand the mindset of someone who uses self-injury to cope.

However, speaking of journalism, I wasn’t keen on the extracts of Camille’s articles included within the book. Flynn worked as a feature-writer for more than 15 years, and was still working as a journalist while writing Sharp Objects. Yet to me, when journalistic pieces are added into a novel, it never reads quite right because the two forms are so jarringly different.

Overall, I thoroughly liked the intriguing and disturbing story of Sharp Objects, the complex female characters and the topics the book draws attention to. If you liked Gone Girl, and want to be chilled by Flynn some more, I recommend Sharp Objects!

– Judith

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Book Review: Child Taken by Darren Young

Child Taken is the brand new, debut thriller from Darren Young.

One summer’s day, a young Jessica Preston disappears from the beach where she was playing with her family. The police say she drowned, but her mother thinks otherwise. She thinks she was taken. 20 years later, another child goes missing, prompting a young journalist to uncover the mystery behind what really happened to Jessica. She finds someone with an explosive secret, which not only threatens to reveal the truth, but puts lives in danger.

After reading Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train last year, I’ve really grown to enjoy mystery and crime thrillers, and so it was a pleasure to read Child Taken, which follows a similar narrative style.

The chapters were a short length, which kept the pace moving, and helped easily switch between the two narrative perspectives of our female protagonists: Danni and Laura. This style heavily reminded me of The Girl On The Train, which tells the narrative through the eyes of Rachel, Anna, and Megan, and I liked this.

I particularly liked Laura, particularly because she works as a journalist, which is a position I’d like to be in myself one day, and the fact she uses her journalism to uncover a horrible secret reminds me of another Gillian Flynn novel, Sharp Objects, which is another favourite thriller of mine.

At various points in the book, there was definite, and well-crafted suspense – one Goodreads user said Child Taken ‘sucked me in and … spat me out’ – and I can definitely see its potential to become a book that people struggle to put down.

However, although some parts were genuinely thrilling, I felt other parts were slightly lacking – introductions of new characters were often followed by lots of background information which I found a bit unnecessary.

I really enjoyed Child Taken – by halfway through I was certainly “hooked” – and it’s an impressive debut novel. In places, it could do with a polish, but I think it has brilliant potential.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Child Taken will be available to buy as a paperback on Amazon UK from May 2017.

– Judith

 

[Guest Post] Film Review: The Girl On The Train

The following blog post was written by Patrick, from The Blog from Another World.


My name is Patrick from The Blog from Another World. If you want to check out Judith’s review of the book, you can find it here:

The novel, as Judith has written, is a page turner, a compelling read. This film then, should be gripping. It, in theory, should have maintained this tension and compulsive plot. Instead, The Girl on the Train has become a bore − a super-serious thriller without the thrills.

The most obvious comparison to this film is Gone Girl (2014), David Fincher’s brilliant adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s suburban murder mystery. Sadly, this film does not match the quality of Gone Girl at all.

I was struck in the first half an hour by how heavy and dour this film is. Each scene is laboured and miserable, characters complain about their lives and very little happens. It is not for a long time that the central disappearance occurs.

This film has a Hitchcockian plot; Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, commutes to and from New York each day on the train where she observes the lives of the people whose houses are near the tracks, including her ex-husband. When her ex-husband’s nanny goes missing, Rachel herself may be implicated in the mystery.

I recently watched Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train in the cinema and was struck by the light touch and thrilling pace of it. Characters have light moments and dark moments. They are gripping, complex and compel you to keep watching. Strangers on a Train is a magnificent thriller and I would recommend it to anyone who feels short-changed by The Girl on the Train as, in contrast to this, it feels grindingly repetitive. A scene will open, someone will complain about their lives and by the end, without fail, they will be in tears. This makes the film such a drag, and pulls down many excellent performers along with it.

Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson are excellent actresses. Their performances in Sicario (2015) and Mission Impossible 5 (2015) are some of the most fun and exciting female characters of recent years.

In this film, however, both feel laboured and heavy, battling with boring material in an attempt to make deep and meaningful characters. In the end, both come across as cyphers, stereotypes of middle class women, trapped in their own separate worlds, enraptured by the men around them. If this film was more thrilling and fun, this type of characterisation might work. A savage critique of the American middle class is what makes Gone Girl so fun. This film wants to portray real life, and aim for realism but another side of it wants to make Gone Girl, the savage, darkly funny and vicious mystery.

A presence with the entertainment value of Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry, or Kim Dickens would really have given The Girl on the Train another side, some more depth. People are naturally humorous, and a few amusing lines of dialogue or a dark sense of humour would have elevated things tenfold.

However, smaller roles seemed to feature actors who were really bringing something to the table. Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband and Luke Evans as the husband of the missing woman were far more convincing than most others. However, their involvement was too small for them to shine.

Blunt’s performance frankly is an embarrassment. She wildly overacts in some scenes and in others she seems slightly sheepish to be a part of this film. I was very disappointed by her and I think she is indicative of a lot of the problems this film suffers from.

However, most of the blame must be placed at director Tate Taylor’s door. He is the worst possible choice for director. This film needed a provocative and uncompromising director, someone who would tell the story truthfully and intelligently but with a sense of fun. The film handles tough real life themes but this doesn’t mean that you can skimp on the mystery and thrills at the centre of it. Taylor directs with a soporific and laboured style, glossy but shallow and with no sense of pace. This film is boring and silly with so few decent performances you wonder why these people were cast in the first place.

Overall, this film is a disaster, a page-turner turned into a cinema-snoozer which fails miserably at its central goal: to thrill and intrigue. I guessed the ending within the first fifteen minutes and I was so desperate for my guess to not be the case that I ended up making up theories to allow the screenwriter and director some credit.

However, I was sadly correct and I walked out of the cinema thinking: “This would be the movie David Fincher and Alfred Hitchcock would make if they were both stupid”.

***

Thank you for reading this very therapeutic review! I hope you enjoyed it, and if you want to see this film, just read the book instead. It’s obviously much better. On the other hand, watch Strangers on a Train – that’s how you do a train-based thriller.

I would just like to thank Judith for all her help and her agreeing to be a part of this collaboration! I hope we can work together in the near future.

Patrick and Judith