Monthly Archives: January 2015

Charlie Blair’s Book Review

sharp

Keep Your Demons on a Leash

By Charlie Blair

It’s common in today’s thrillers and mysteries that protagonists must “confront their demons” to reach their goals, but in Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects, her character is forced to utilize them. In Sharp Objects, a journalist tries to uncover the truth of two serial murders, but in order to do so she must fully face her own past for the first time. This produces a gripping page-turner of a novel that offers two points of suspense: piecing together the truth in the present, and discovering the unknown that took place decades before.

Camille Preaker has her demons, and she knows it. On her return from a stay at a psychiatric hospital, she resumes her job as a struggling journalist for the Chicago Daily Post. Her boss assigns her to cover what he believes could be a big break for the second-rate paper: a case down south concerning the murders of two preteen girls. However, this mourning town is Wind Gap, Missouri, which so happens to be Camille’s hometown; and, to be frank, she is not excited for the visit home.

Her arrival in Wind Gap gives Camille more than she signed up for, and she’s thrust into the stress of revisiting her strained family relationships, tensions with the detectives on the case, and the emotional burden that the case itself presents. As the case goes on and her time in Wind Gap lengthens, Camille finds herself torn between inhibitions and instincts. She knows about her issues that put her in the hospital, but she begins to feel that there’s more that she has repressed  seemingly beyond the point of retrieval. In order to uncover the truth about the two girls, she must recognize what she has so deeply buried in her own past.

In Sharp Objects, Flynn displays an incredible sense of control over a plotline. She knows what she wants to say – and she knows how she wants to say it. This book was increasingly difficult to put down as I went along. Flynn had moments of beautiful language, such as when she chose to describe Camille’s character while still retaining a weighty relevance to the story: “I could feel my thoughts blowing back on themselves, dirtied with old prejudices and too much insider knowledge.” Camille struggles with herself just as much as she does with the case at hand, playing a mental match of tug-of-war throughout the story between following her instincts and the limitations of her own inhibitions. This book is full of suspense as you try to solve, not one, but two mysteries, and it demands attention; for a debut novel, Flynn deserves it. She performs not only as an author but also as a master manipulator as she takes the reader for the ride of her design.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a good psychological thriller or a slightly twisted protagonist, or who enjoyed Gone Girl. This probably isn’t suited for a squeamish audience, as it can be graphic or just plain uncomfortable at times… but then you’re probably not a psychological thriller fan, so take your pick: to read, or not to read Sharp Objects.

Katie Sargent’s Book Review

suspended

Clouded Judgment

By Katie Sargent

A suspended sentence is defined as a judge’s delaying the sentence of a person found guilty in order to allow said defendant to spend a period of time on probation. In this situation, the evidence has been gathered, the verdict decreed, and yet something holds the judge back from definitely convicting the guilty man. Something restrains him from that final measure: perhaps the lack of a clear image within his own mind – as if the case is an unfocused photograph. In his writing in Suspended Sentences, originally published in French, Patrick Modiano exudes the feeling of a judge not entirely convinced on his own judging. An autobiographical-esque collection of hazy memories and fragmented ideas, Suspended Sentences is like a dream.

It is a novel with moments of sparkling clarity; moments when the sun seems to pierce through Modiano’s foggy subconscious and render his mind open to his readers. Yet the majority of the piece, a series of three short stories, gives the reader the idea that although Modiano recalls his young life in Paris, he has not yet decided how he feels about it. In the first of the short stories, Afterimage, Modiano spends several months cataloging the entire inventory of an ornery aging photographer, simply because the man once took a picture of him and his girlfriend in a café. In the second story, Suspended Sentences, he tells the story of his unusual childhood raised by four women. The third features a disconcerting stranger Modiano meets on the street.

It is perhaps the sense of mystery in Modiano’s work that most intrigued me. I never seemed to learn quite enough about him or the people in his life from the memories he provided in his stories. Ideas were half-formed, convictions seldom made, and the narrator barely included dialogue in which he shared his thoughts. At one point, as he describes a television show in which an old friend appears, he states, “nothing remained except the fading echoes in my memory”: no inner reflection, no outward response. At times it was frustrating, but ‘suspended sentences’ was certainly an apt title for this book. Because while I am certain Modiano identifies with his memories (to include them in a memoir, how could he not?), I commend him on his ability to remove all emotion from the telling of them. He does not condemn those that were cruel to him in his young life, or portray them as villains to be dragged in the dirt for tainting his childhood memories.

No, with Suspended Sentences, Modiano provides the characters of his young life with a probation period. Likely he has passed judgment, but he does not force the judgment on his readers, readers who have no doubt come across similar experiences. This was a cleansing read: it reminded me of the ability of every human not to reserve initial judgment – being only human, after all – but to reserve oneself: to retain emotions until ideas are fully formed, and not as the fog in Modiano’s Paris.

Read if you like: descriptions of rainy French cities, photography, a breather

Don’t read if you don’t like: sad smiles, (initially) unfulfilling endings