Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn / May We Be Forgiven by A M Homes / He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently going to see Gone Girl at the cinema reminded me that I still had Sharp Objects languishing unread on our Kindle. It's the third Gillian Flynn novel I have read but apparently the first she wrote.
The storyline here is definitely not for the fainthearted and at points I felt quite queasy reading it. The central theme of two girls in a small town in Missouri being murdered is obviously horrific, but having read several crime thrillers over the years, I have pretty much become immune to the emotional pull of murdered young fictional women and girls. It feels bizarre writing that but so many novels start with such a death that it is almost a prerequisite. Where Sharp Objects differs is that our viewpoint into the story comes via Camille, a journalist sent back to cover the story unfolding in her hometown. Camille not only has self harmed and in plenty of detail, but leads us into the bosom of her cold, dysfunctional family as she tries to come to terms with her personal past and the death of her younger sister. The relationships within her home and trailing out across the town are cleverly included in the story, explaining why she is as she is.
I don't think Sharp Objects is as good a story as Gone Girl and it doesn't have the former's intensity, but I appreciate that they both have unusual central female characters who are damaged and bizarre, yet memorable and definitely never stereotypical.

May We Be ForgivenMay We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have awarded May We Be Forgiven three stars overall, but I would actually like to give the first half four stars and the second half just two. Initially the novel is a pretty fast paced descent into horror as our narrator, Harold Silver, finds himself in a family maelstrom caused by his own adultery with his brother's wife and the extreme violence that this unleashes. I enjoyed the drama and pace of these first 250 or so pages. There are darkly humorous passages and the bewilderment of our hero is both real and poignant as he attempts to repair his own life and that of his nephew and niece.
After around about the half way point though, the novel takes a bizarre shift into a surreal fantasy world which sees the introduction of international terrorism, swathes of Nixon-era political blathering, and the sort of saccharine-sweet schmaltz that the Americans can do so well but which I absolutely loathe! Logical plot progression is thrown out the window in favour of stereotyped flat characters and choreographed set pieces that don't bear much relation to each other. Our hero suddenly becomes apparently irresistible to women, patronises both needy American immigrants and South African villagers by throwing vast sums of cash at both, and finds time to adopt an extra child and an elderly couple. The pre-teen nephew and niece seem to mature by at least a decade in a couple of months and there's a lot of description of bodily functions, mostly diarrhoea and belching, but with a truly cringe-inducing phone call about a tampon. I can only think that it's all meant to be funny in a kind of Sex And The City 2 fashion. It isn't.
A very odd book that's about twice as long as is good for it.

He Kills CoppersHe Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another repeat author for the third book of this post. I loved both The House of Rumour and The Long Firm by Jake Arnott and so had high hopes for He Kills Coppers. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The novel has a similar London underworld setting to The Long Firm and a few characters make cameo appearances, otherwise it could have been written by a completely different author. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the previous book is absent as mostly are Arnott's descriptions and interesting characterizations. Two main characters, a journalist and a policeman, take turns speaking through first-person viewpoints but their voices are so similarly portrayed that I frequently had trouble trying to distinguish which was which. Much of their language is incredibly hackneyed and there are a lot of unexplained acronyms and jargon words that don't add authenticity, merely irritation. There is also a third-person viewpoint of a murderer on the run. His odd actions are often not really explained so it was difficult to try and build up any sense of him as a person.
He Kills Coppers is a particularly blokey book I think. Attempts at atmosphere and describing emotion are haphazard and often missing altogether leaving the emphasis on action alone. Therefore during later chapters where not much happens, it all got a bit dull. I also noticed spelling and typo errors increasing towards the end of the novel suggesting that perhaps the proof reader had gotten bored by then as well!
Apparently the overall story arc is based on true events - I haven't googled yet to confirm this - but, if so, the blend of imagination and realism that Arnott pulled off so well before just didn't work for me this time around.

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