Author Notes – How Gillian Flynn taught me to love the female protagonist.

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Call it a result of playground mean girl trauma, those prickly remnants of high school girl-on-girl crime, or feeling out of sorts in my own female skin, but I have always had trouble relating to female characters. Strange then, that it took psychopathy-personified Amy Dunne, to prompt a definitive female character love in this reader.

Don’t get me wrong. Prior to, I had quite a few female favourites. Claire Abshire from The Time Traveller’s Wife. Lisbeth Salander, kick-ass Millennium Trilogy anti-heroine. Hunger Games tribute, Katniss Everdeen. The list goes on. I admired these women, saw something of my own story in them. But, as a reader, I felt jaded. And then I cracked open Gone Girl and met Amy Dunne.

I think a lot of readers were most likely introduced to Gillian Flynn through this, her third novel. It was, of course, an instant bestseller and lit a fuse that sparked the more popular than ever domestic noir trend. It is a menacing, uncomfortably intimate portrait of a marriage gone awry, and it made me fall in slightly morbid love with a new type of female character: intriguing, intelligent and very, very bad. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I needed to find a scorned and unapologetically calculated woman on the page. And Gillian Flynn delivered. She made me love a female character.

I have since added her older titles to my collection, as well, and her women have continued to enthral me. In Dark Places I found Libby Day, cracked and broken.  “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ,” Libby says. “Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.” And reading that I knew, that as a flesh-and-blood woman, I have felt that same meanness. I have spent many nights taping over my own cracks in the dark, polishing them to present a flawless delusion to the world. And reading about Libby Day, I felt like just maybe it would be okay to show those cracks sometimes.

In Sharp Objects, Flynn’s debut, I was gut-punched by the dysfunctional mother-daughter dynamic between Adora, Amma and Camille Preaker. Another deeply emotionally unhealthy set of women. There is a line in this novel, which reads to the effect that not all women are fit to be mothers and not all girls are fit to be daughters – and again, I related. I needed to see the lack of motherly instinct, the opposite of what is seen as feminine. And I loved those characters. For being flawed and dangerous, to each other and themselves.

Womanhood is brutal. It’s frightening to be judged and stereotyped. By society, by men, often by ourselves. I think that’s why I appreciate the bravery of painting women in the often unflattering light Gillian Flynn does. I think there’s something necessary in encountering this type of female character, of delving into the darkness and the unthinkable. Perhaps we all need to find our own brand of flawed and dangerous.

Visit the incomparable Ms Flynn’s website here.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

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“I watched the house. It watched me back through long, baleful windows.”

If you peruse my bookish scribblings on the regular, you’ll know that should you hand me anything written by my favourite of favourites, Gillian Flynn, I’ll be a most blissfully content little bookworm. And while The Grownup is a mere 65-page tumble into Ms Flynn’s dark literary conjurings, it is a very satisfying one indeed.

A young woman, dabbling in the fine art of faking psychic intuition (and moonlighting as a sex worker, on the side), is approached by a woman named Susan Burke, who is convinced that the Victorian mansion – aptly called Carterhook Manor, a name bound to delight anyone fond of dwellings cloaked in mystery – she shares with her family, is possessed by a malevolent entity. Even more troubling, the house seems to influence her 15-year-old stepson, Miles in a peculiar way. Miles is the type of cold, calculated teenaged boy you dread encountering in a dilapidated hallway even more than you would a little girl ghost. Our initially sceptic protagonist is equally uneasy about both his strange behaviour towards her, as well as his seemingly unperturbed attitude towards the unnerving occurrences within the manor. And once she learns the truth about the mansion and its current inhabitants, in a most delicious twist, she finds herself entangled in a set of very unique circumstances.

Besides her excellent writing, Flynn has a talent for creating characters that are particularly devious, damaged or emotionally stumped. In this novella, just like her books, I deeply enjoyed her diversely damaged cast: the neurotic mother and wife, the lady drifter looking to make a quick buck and unafraid to exploit others or herself, and then the addition of Miles. Creepy, creepy Miles.

This story had me goosebumpy and chewing a thumbnail to the quick, long before the final page. A highly recommended read.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort.

Reading this book made me want to take a scalding hot bath and scrub my skin raw. Crack open its spine and you’re spat out onto the streets of Wind Gap, Missouri, where messy truths are covered with a thin, shiny lacquer named small town hospitality and family values.

Journalist Camille Preaker returns to this, her hometown, to report on the murder of two local girls. But grisly crime is not all that awaits her: there is her neurotic, overbearing mother Adora, still nursing a family tragedy of years before; a mean-girl posse of 13-year-olds governed by Camille’s half-sister, Amma; and two dead little girls with their own secrets.

The murder mystery aspect of this novel is probably a little predictable, so if you’re a crime thriller connoisseur who longs to be stunned silly when the baddy is finally revealed… this one might not be for you. That being said, solving the murders is hardly the only reason to read this book.

If you haven’t read a Gillian Flynn before (and even if you had, but need a reminder), Miss Flynn does not write about nice things and the old sugar-spice-everything-nice adage certainly does not reply to any of her female characters. I imagined the women of Wind Gap each trailing an IV relentlessly feeding their veins with malice, while they purr feigned sincerities at their BFF’s. But besides tapping into this insidious undercurrent of this small town, Flynn takes you behind closed doors and shows you the horrors the gossipy next door neighbours can only guess at – and this is where Sharp Objects truly shines.

The relationship between Camille and Adora, between Camille and Amma, and the question that lies at the center of this thriller: are all women meant to be mothers and are all girls meant to be daughters or sisters? Do you truly know someone, even if that person came from your own body, or shares your blood? How much of that person is truly individual, how much is simply an extension of oneself? How much may you lay claim to? The bond between mother and daughter has never been creepier and it makes for darn good reading.

Gillian Flynn by Dark Places

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I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.
Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.

Ben Day allegedly murdered his mother and two siblings on a winter’s night in 1985. Libby, only 7, escaped the massacre and her testimony ensured a life sentence for the teenaged Ben. Twenty-five years later, Libby – desperately broke and no longer the darling of a murder-fascinated public – is approached by a secret society obsessed with gruesome crimes. The Kill Club, convinced that Ben was wrongly convicted, presents Libby with an enticing and disturbing offer: for a fee, Libby must help them uncover the truth of what happened that night.

Gillian Flynn’s characters reside within the darkest underbelly of the human condition. She has a knack for showing the worst in people, but also inspiring a strange and uncomfortable empathy towards them. Her fictional rural town inhabits a cast of jaded, angry and deeply flawed individuals caught in a desperate struggle for survival.

15-year-old Ben Day is plagued by the consequences of assumption, not-so-quietly whispered rumours and fear-mongering. Shunned, his thoughts and actions turn dark and dangerous, but was this really enough to cause him to commit the unspeakable? Patty Day is an exhausted single parent, with a debt collector breathing down her neck, an abusive former husband knocking at her door and poverty pushing her towards complete despair. Libby Day, now 32 years old, is bitter, broken and frightened as she unravels the events that led to that terrible night.

Dark Places is a terrifying and skilfully crafted murder mystery. It plays into the all too human curiosity about grisly acts and those who choose to commit them out of desperation or cruelty. To be read with the lights on and the front door securely bolted.

Note: Tonight’s perusing brought me to these gorgeous alternative book covers and I’ve decided to add them in here. I feel they perfectly capture this novel’s dark and brooding atmosphere. Found here.