December 27, 14.50pm
There is a tendency, in the modern media, towards length; an adherence the principle that bigger is better. This is evident in the world of the big screen where too few movies are now concluded before their second hour is up. It is rare too, that I find a book these days that couldn't use a second, more extensive, application of the editor's knife.
And that is, partly at least, why Sharp Objects, the debut novel from Gillian Flynn, is such a triumph. Not a word in this modern family-horror-story novel is wasted as Flynn draws her reader through the mostly tightly-woven of plots to an extraordinary conclusion.
Television is perhaps the sole medium not obsessed with engorgement. Most content is still served up in 30 and 60 minute packages, which are relatively short time periods for setting up a story, telling it and then bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. In recent years American writers in particular have been very adept at using every one of the seconds available to them to produce first class story-telling and entertainment. As the television critic for Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn has had a privileged front row seat of both best and worst practice in the small screen media, and on the evidence of Sharp Objects, she has learned those lessons well.
Sharp Objects begins when Camille Preaker, a reporter on a third string Chicago newspaper, is sent back to her home town in rural Missouri to report on what appears to be a serial killer story following the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of a second. As both outsider and one time prominent resident of the town (the prettiest girl from the richest family) Camille is the perfect guide through small town neuroses and secrets laid horribly bare by two violent crimes.
She uncovers the broken dreams (and marriages) of her former classmates; the havoc wrought by her half sister Amma who leads a Heathers-esque clique of the beautiful and bad. More than that , she reacquaints herself with the claustrophobia of life in a small town as well as the suffocating presence of her domineering southern matron mother.
In the meantime, Flynn maintains a gripping murder mystery which twists ever closer to Camille's childhood home.
It is scarcely believable that this is the work of a first novellist, so accomplished is it in every facet of the writing. Characterisation, dialogue, context, backdrop and story-telling are all first class. Sharp Objects, which is published in the UK (by Weidenfeld and Nicholson) on January 3rd, marks out Gillian Flynn as a fearsome new talent in the crime fiction genre. I am as sure that this book will be a huge success as I have been of any debut novel I have ever come across, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.