Despite the fact in my head I’m still a young mid-twenties person there are occasions when you realise you are getting old (and not just when I look in the mirror before you say anything!) For example when you realise your tv taste is turning into that of your parents. Countryfile is no longer something you would bolt your tea in the hope of being let off having to sit through. It is now an important Sunday afternoon view otherwise how will you know what the long range weather forecast is?
The other big problem I have is that your tolerance level seems to shrink considerably as the years go by. For someone like me who is already starting from a pretty low threshold, this is quite a worry. Irrational things drive me bonkers. Net curtains for example, I hate them. I’ve always disliked them but figured what people choose to do was their own business. Now though an annoying placement of a net curtain drives me mad. The other day I was walking back to the train station along a lovely riverside path in Oxford, admiring all the wonderful houses with big windows looking across the water. One house however had huge net curtains completely blocking the view. This then started a ten minute internal conversation between myself and the unknown owner of offending curtain about why they would have it. Was their life really that interesting that they needed to hide what they are doing from preying eyes? Luckily by the end of it I had won the argument. The offending piece of cloth was going to be removed and I had wasted my entire walk thinking about something that was of absolutely no consequence to me.
A grown man on my train reading Harry Potter is another example. Now I’ve not read Harry Potter as I’m not a young child. I have nothing against Harry Potter itself; however grown adults should not be reading it in public. There’s loads of books out there specifically for us adults, let the children have the young boy wizard. It does of course worry me that my own book tastes will change as I get even older. Currently I thrive on a book diet of crime, murder, blood and guts and misery. Yet how long is it before I start reading Readers Digest, and enjoying a nice Catherine Cookson. Maybe it’ll be even worse than that. Maybe I won’t have time to read at all, I’ll be too busy watching Songs of Praise and then writing to points of view to complain about misplaced net curtains in the vestry. Something to look forward to then!
I bought this novel at the festival last year, but it was actually a case of mistaken identity. I thought Natalie Haynes was talking in a session I was about to attend, but then I checked the programme again and she wasn’t down to speak. That meant unfortunately I left this book in the bedroom and didn’t get it signed. Then however it turned out she was talking anyway to cover for someone who had been unable to attend. Therefore I didn’t manage to get my copy signed, which is a shame as I thought this book was excellent.
A grieving Alex moves to Edinburgh after the death of her husband in violent circumstances. She has previously been a theatre director but takes a job as a drama teacher at a pupil referral unit. She becomes very attached to one class of teenagers whom she teaches the Greek tragedies too in an effort to get them engaged with something. Unfortunately whilst she succeeds, she isn’t aware of just how strongly these stories of revenge and violence will affect this group of children.
As soon as I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down. It was not my usual choice as I do love a good serial killer, murder mystery type novel, however it was a great departure from my norm. The story of Alex as she tries to deal with her grief is interspersed with diary entries from one of the children, which gives a different almost behind the scenes angle to what is happening in the classroom. Alongside this we start to unravel what actually happened to Luke, Alex’s husband, and find out why Alex goes to London every week. Interspersed throughout all of this there is the description of the Greek plays done in such a simple context that I felt I was learning things along the way. It was interesting to see how one crime affected the people around it, and how that lead to another one.
The story itself with hindsight is quite slow, there is a lot of description and it’s pretty obvious what is going to happen right from the start. However that in no way diminishes any enjoyment I had. Each chapter builds up to the actual violent outcome, and it’s written in the style of a play with three acts. Putting aside the fact that I’m not convinced that Alex would actually have been allowed to teach a bunch of children at any school due to her being a director not a teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s hard to explain what made it so compelling but its most definitely worth a read and I’m very glad of the mistaken identity purchase.
I should start this review by saying that I’ve previously read both of Gillian Flynn’s novels after seeing her at the festival in 2012. The reviews of Dark Places and Gone Girl can be read by following the links, but for those of you too busy with all your last minute Christmas shopping, its suffice to say I really enjoyed both those books. Therefore I was looking forward to reading Sharp Objects, which was actually the authors debut novel.
Camille is now a reporter in Chicago. She is told to return to her home town of Windy Gap where one young girl has been murdered and another recently disappeared. When the bodies turn up their teeth have been removed. Camille’s mother still lives in the small town and has a teenage daughter called Amma who she dotes on, almost to the point of obsession. She had a third daughter that both she and Camille adored, but Marian was a sickly child who died when young.
This story explores not only Camille’s relationship with her mother, but also her return to a small town where she was very unhappy. Alongside this it becomes obvious that Amma is not quite the sweet little girl that the family seem to think.
As mentioned earlier this was Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, but actually the third one of hers that I’d read. Unfortunately I didn’t think it was as good as the previous ones, but that’s probably to be expected. I imagine writing is like any skill it gets better with practice. The story itself is quite good, and the ending was sufficiently unpredictable, but I just felt it maybe wasn’t written as well as it could have been. The characters were all a bit unpleasant and I struggled to warm to any of them, especially Camille.
The portrayal of the small southern town was interesting. I felt it gave a good impression of the claustrophobia surrounding a small community. You could imagine how hard it would have been to grow up in that kind of place, especially if you didn’t particularly fit into any of the main groups. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to feel any sympathy for Camille. Her drinking seemed to sometimes be about to become a real issue, then it would be forgotten. Equally her habit involving words just annoyed me, plus some bits were downright silly, such as her having a drug fuelled evening with a bunch of 13 year olds. Yet other bits were very clever, and I didn’t guess the ending. I enjoyed the story and would recommend it although ideally read this first and then continue with her others.