A Disturbing Book: Sharp Objects

A good friend recommended Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006), especially since she knew that we had both read Gone Girl and had both gone to see the movie version the weekend it came out. She recommended Sharp Objects to me because it was so disturbing that she really wanted to talk about it with somebody. I’m glad she did, because I really liked it. I tend to like disturbing and depressing books.

This one is about a reporter who visits her small Missouri hometown, one she left behind willingly and quickly, to investigate what seems to be serial murder. Two of the town’s young girls have been killed (with their teeth removed postmortem), and there are no leads. Camille begins to investigate, only to find few leads and tight-lipped police officers.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Camille’s family is strange. It consists of her mother, step-father, and thirteen-year-old half sister, whom Camille hardly knows because of their age difference. Camille has another sister who died young, and this is a source of constant worry and division for the family. The younger sister, Amma, is strange, acting babyish in front of her parents and acting out sexually and aggressively with her peers.

Camille, we learn, has a problem with cutting, and spent time in the hospital for it. She has carved all sorts of words into her flesh to take away the pain of her strained relationship with her mother and the lack of love she received as a child. She never knew who her biological father was, and her mother won’t tell her. Her entire body is scarred with these cuts, causing her to wear long sleeves and long skirts at all times.

When Camille finally figures out who the killer of the girls is, I wasn’t too surprised. However, even after that, there’s a twist. One that I sort of figured out early on. If you don’t want to know because you plan to read this book, do not read below.

Spoiler Alert

The killer seems to be Camille’s mother, a selfish, cold, and uncaring woman who has a poor relationship with Camille and seems to believe that the dead girls were close to her. Camille, while investigating, also discovers that her mother was responsible for her sister’s death all those years ago. It was Munchausen by Proxy, and a nurse caring for her sickly sister had alerted doctors to this fact, but nobody believed her and nothing was done. In consequence, the sister died.

After Camille figures this out, her mother begins poisoning her, and Camille plays along because she wants to catch her mother and give the police toxicology reports.   While this part of the plot seemed hokey and unlikely to me, it made for some great drama in the denouement of the novel. Her mother is arrested, and they find the pliers in her house that pulled the teeth of the town’s dead girls. But they never find the teeth.

Camille takes her sister Amma to live with her in Chicago, where they get help and try to heal from the trauma. However, a peer of Amma’s turns up dead, with some of her teeth pulled, and the police realize that she was the real killer. Amma, who resented her mother spending time with the girls, and who had lived such a strange life with a needy and selfish mother, had become a monster herself. Amma is prosecuted for the murders of her peers and her mother is prosecuted for killing her young daughter all those years ago. The teeth were found in her dollhouse; they made up the floor of the master bedroom, a replica of her mother’s bedroom floor with ivory insets.

This was a gripping book. I read it in two days, and I enjoyed the ride. There are some strange and uncomfortable sex scenes, especially when Camille sleeps with an 18-year-old boy, one of the suspects in the murders. I guess I’m a prude, but I have a hard time understanding how somebody can have casual sex with several partners in a matter of weeks during a stressful time in one’s disturbing hometown. But I guess such plot twists are “real” to Flynn.

If you’re looking for a good thriller written with literary expertise, this is it.

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39 thoughts on “A Disturbing Book: Sharp Objects

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  1. I’m in two minds whether to give this a read or not now LOL. I skipped the spoiler just in case but not sure how much I want to read about the self-harm. To read or not to read… that is the question!

    1. If it helps to know a little more: the self harm is mostly in the past, and this novel covers her discovering why she has cut herself and who has harmed her even more.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this. As I suspected, I probably will never read a Gillian Flynn book–I just don’t like such psychologically disturbing characters or events or plots! Yuck! So I am glad to know I am correct in avoiding this author, but since I always want to see every author find an appreciative audience, I’m glad you and so many others enjoy her writing! 🙂

    1. Yep, stay away from this if you don’t like the disturbing stuff! I’ll just review it for you and you can be aware of what these books are about without putting yourself through the trauma. 🙂

  3. i, too, really loved ‘gone girl,’ the book. i, too, went to see the movie the weekend it came out. i can’t tell whether u were as disappointed as i was w/ the movie. i honestly thought it stunk. i say that knowing full well that often times movies don’t measure up to a great book & i think i understand why. another great book that was a big disappointment as a movie was ‘unbroken,’ which i couldn’t get enough of as a book & went to see the movie opening weekend & was highly disappointed. anyway, i love reading ur stuff even when i don’t comment, which is most of the time. keep up the good work, interesting articles & reviews!

    1. Thanks, Alex! I didn’t know what to think about the movie. I liked seeing how they adapted the book for film, but I felt it was miscast in certain ways and I already knew what would happen, so the thrill of the mystery was gone. I haven’t seen Unbroken yet, but now I’m afraid to since you said it wasn’t that great. The book was so good, so maybe I’ll just skip the disappointment.

  4. This sounds like a good, disturbing novel. But, strangely, I wasn’t abig fan of Gone Girl. How do they compare? If you already answered this question in the spoiler section that I didn’t read, I apologize. 🙂

  5. Didn’t read this any further than the first paragraph. I was afraid you may give away too much info. I tend to like disturbing books too. They actually make you use your brain. This one has moved up to NEXT in my TBR list! ~Elle

  6. This is actually my favourite of Flynn’s books – I too love nothing more than a super disturbing mystery like this. It’s criminally underread though – people get through Gone Girl and go right for Dark Places (also good but not as good). I’m hoping your review makes people seek it out! This is the kind of delicious book to read at the beach or the lake.

    1. This would make a great beach read! I haven’t read Dark Places yet, but it does seem like most of my friends have read it instead of this one. It deserves more attention!

  7. Due to circumstances, I often worked on spec scripts for many disturbing book to film. For Sharp Objects, I was inspired by the 1979 book Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. One reason is due to the twins in V.C. Andrews book. Twins were often used in my work, due to Elvis Presley who’s twin died and was discovered by Alabama native Sam Phillips. (I am from Alabama.) The title to Gone Girl was also another connection to Sam Phillips who discovered Johnny Cash and released the album Gone Girl in 1978. It was Kurt Cobain who came into my life in 1983 and a self injurer who inspired my lead character Camille. There is more info on my Flynn books on my blog…michaelhutchenceandme.wordpress.com. Thanks for the review.

  8. I’m on a thriller kick lately, and I’ve grown to really like unreliable, potentially psychotic narrators. It keeps the story well-paced when you don’t know if you can trust what they’re telling you. I love Gillian Flynn’s writing, but I agree that she’s definitely…an acquired taste. I had to take a reading break after Gone Girl to recover before reading another one of her books.

    1. A break from this sort of fiction is a good idea! If you like dark and unreliable, this book would appeal to you. I wouldn’t say that this character is unreliable, but the others around her certainly are and that makes for good suspense and mystery.

  9. Thanks for the recommendation! I read Gone Girl and was wondering what the author’s other books were like. I tend to enjoy those ‘depressing’ books as well (who knows why but I’m glad I’m not alone!)

  10. I loved this book! Gillian Flynn is great at writing about dark women. Her other book “Dark Places” is another great read! I actually liked it the most out of all three of her books. I also suggest “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. It’s another great novel about unreliable narrative and dark, depressing characters.

  11. I’ve read all three of her books now and I don’t think there is another contemporary author out there who writes women the way Flynn does. They are flawed, smart, sad, and f*cked up. Every one of them. The men are weak, victims, played. I can’t decide if she loves women, or hates them.

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