Jen K’s #CBR IV Review #41: Sharp Objects
Gillian Flynn’s first novel, and my favorite of hers. May just be because I like this protagonist the most.
Gillian Flynn’s first novel, and my favorite of hers. May just be because I like this protagonist the most.
Some sunny day baby
When everything seems okay, baby
You’ll wake up and find out youre alone
Cause Ill be gone
Gone, gone, gone really gone
Gone, gone, gone really gone
Gone, ga-gone, cause you done me wrong
—“Gone, Gone, Gone,” Alison Krauss & Robert Plant
Once upon a time, there was a married couple, named Nick and Amy Dunne. They seemed so perfect, so fabulous, so wonderful. It was their fifth wedding anniversary. This day of planned romance is immediately forgotten when Amy is is suddenly gone—missing. There’s no body, but there are signs of a struggle. Of course, Nick is the prime suspect in her disappearance.
I wasn’t expecting a lot from this novel when it was given to me. I heard the book was good and I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I pshawed that notion, but I was taken aback when I found myself totally enthralled by the first person narrative of reading Amy’s diary. I felt like I knew Amy, she was written so well. She told me things about her relationship with Nick, how it began, how he made her feel, how things changed when their fortunes changed and they had to move from their hip digs in New York to the Midwestern commonness of North Carthage, Mississippi. Amy was someone I was rooting for and I was so concerned that her amazing husband had done something terrible to her. Isn’t it always the husband in cases like these?
There are always two sides to every story and author Gillian Flynn deftly swapped narrative voices in the novel and allowed us to experience Nick’s side. He was just as honest and engaging as Amy. He’s just a good-hearted Midwestern boy who loved this fantastic girl. Now, whose side am I on? Nick was a good husband, not perfect but Lord, he tried. Amy was such a perfectionist. She was so spoiled. He did the things he did to survive and try to find some happiness.
I was very pleased with how the book played out and was taken by surprise the entire time. I could not put the book down. I highly recommend it for the suspense, mystery, and the warped psychology of the plot. It is an entertaining quick read.
When I first read it almost two years ago, I remember thinking that of the three Millennium books, Hornet’s Nest was definitely the weakest, but either because I’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid by now, or because I’ve simply ceased to think of Larsson’s creation as a fictional world, I liked it much better this time (and I did like it quite a bit before).
As I noted in my first review way back in June 2010, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is much less of a mystery-thriller than books one and two. Instead, TGWKTHN is more of an espionage-thriller. In the first book the big question was ‘Who killed Harriet Vanger?” In the second, “Who is Zalachenko?” There isn’t really a question in this book. We are treated to answers about The Section before the characters are, so the pleasure in this book, then, is in watching Blomkvist and Co. take down the men who ruined Lisbeth’s life piece by piece, and giving her vindication. It’s about airing dirty laundry and shaking things clean. And it is immensely satisfying (if a little unwieldy at times).
TGWKTHN is constructed around the trial of Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, Armansky, and several people within the police who believe her to be innocent, and even a faction within the Security Police, all work together to get Salander acquitted and take down the men of The Section, who have been committing crimes against the people of Sweden and infringing on their rights for decades. The build up to the trial is a little slow at times, but it’s worth it in the end.
Stuff that I loved:
Stuff that should have been fixed but couldn’t because Stieg Larsson is dead, you asshole:
All in all, this probably deserves four, or four and a half stars, but I don’t care about being objective, as I’ve already stated, so five stars.
This book is when you realize that the Millennium trilogy is really all about Lisbeth Salander. It takes up all the threads woven into place in Dragon Tattoo and starts to make a tapestry of them: Lisbeth’s mysterious back-story, what’s she’s done with the fortune she stole from Hans Erik Wennerström, the continued consequences of her guardian Bjurman raping her (and the revenge that is currently represented by the tattoo on his stomach), and the reappearance of her former guardian, Holger Palmgren — not to mention her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist. The book is structured around solving the murders of two people who were working on an exposé on sex trafficking for Millennium, and due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s Lisbeth the police are hunting for the murder. The police, Blomkvist and Millennium, and Lisbeth’s old employer, Dragan Armansky, are all trying to solve the murders at the same time, and they all have different reasons for doing so. What they really end up investigating is Lisbeth’s life, and they find secrets there that even she didn’t know.
Also fulfilled from Dragon Tattoo is Dragan Armansky’s premonition that Lisbeth would be the perfect victim, which sounds kind of offensive at first, but after having read this book, I see what he means. She is other in almost every way imaginable, and thus she is the perfect bogeyman, the perfect scapegoat. The media in the novel plays on Sweden’s (and our very human) cultural obsession with social deviance; it’s the kind of simplistic scapegoating that always assumes that different equals evil. She is presumed to be the murderer based on the preconceived notions of men who don’t even know her. Without directly stating it, Larsson is indicting the infrastructure of the criminal justice system and the men who run it — they let their prejudices about mental illness, sexuality, gender (the assumption that Lisbeth is a prostitute, just because she likes sex) influence the way they investigate these murders. And of course he sticks some men in there who just hate women, because they feel threatened by them.
The one criticism I have isn’t really a criticism, as it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. The book is structured so that the reader may be left in doubt as to whether Salander committed the murders, but it’s almost a waste of time. There is never a moment’s doubt about Salander’s innocence. We’ve come to know and trust her over the course of a book and a half, and we know that she would never murder two innocent people, especially people who have devoted a significant portion of their lives to exposing the men who make a living — or gain sexual pleasure — from exploiting and harming women.
Structurally, The Girl Who Played With Fire is also notable for the distinct lack of interaction — save for in its last two pages — of its two leads. Blomkvist and Salander spend the whole book apart, as Salander isn’t sure how to deal with her feelings for him, or with the hurt pride that comes with them. One of the things I like most about their relationship is how stupid Lisbeth feels for loving Blomkvist. She has no capacity for understanding her own feelings, or the feelings of others, and can’t fathom that Blomkvist might really care for her, even if it’s not in the way she wishes. She expects the worst of people, and for just a second there she let herself believe Blomkvist was different, so it was all the more painful for her when she realized she’d let him in where he could hurt her the most. It makes me sad. (Incidentally, I think that Rooney Mara did an impeccable job conveying that tender and guarded emotionality in Fincher’s film, something that I felt was lacking in Noomi Rapace’s version of Lisbeth, and that’s probably why I prefer the Fincher film over the Swedish original.)
Lastly, I just want to take a minute to talk about the unbelievable badassery of Lisbeth digging herself out of her own grave. I just love her so much.
I received a hardcopy of this book via Random House’s EarlyBirdRead Program
I know many reviews compare this book to Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, but I thought this book also had similar themes to Helen Schulman’s This Beautiful Life. Both books capture how a family reacts when one of their children is part of a scandal.
This book is told within a grand jury transcript of the father’s testimony. The reader doesn’t find out why the father is testifying until 5 pages from the end of the book. A smart reader will see some foreshadowing early in the book around why the father might be testifying.
Even with all the crime/detective dramas on TV, it was interesting to read how a case might be defended. Unfortunately, halfway through the book I got tired of the case/trial and I was ready for the outcome to be shared. I felt the last 20 pages were really unexpected and a little under developed. Landay does incorporate some modern twists into the investigation by including references to Facebook.
While there were some interesting plot twists, I wouldn’t say this book was written any better than any other mystery/thriller I’ve read in the past year.
Reposted from: http://bibliophibian.blogspot.com/2012/02/cbr4-9-defending-jacob-william-landay.html
This is my second time through the Millennium trilogy, so I’m going to try and keep this review short and to the point.
Everybody and their mother knows the story by now, or at least they should. Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, is hired by one of the richest men in Sweden to find out what happened to his sixteen year old niece, Harriet Vanger, who was murdered over forty years before. Lisbeth Salander is a socially introverted, genius hacker, whose life collides unexpectedly with Blomkvist’s, and the two form an unlikely partnership. I first read the books back in February 2010, and since then I’ve seen both film adaptations (Swedish and American) multiple times. I am so familiar with the story by now that I’ve internalized it. I am completely unable to be objective — as if I ever was able in the first place — Salander and Blomkvist are real people as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s a damn shame we won’t ever get to hear any more from them past book three.
For those of you who haven’t heard plot details — where have you been? — I’m not going to say any more about the plot because part of the joy the first time is the discovery of all the twists and turns. What I am going to say is that even though Larsson’s writing may not be stellar*, his imagination more than makes up for it. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favorite characters in literature, ever, and the ways in which he makes use of her to say his peace about the rights of the dispossessed — specifically the rights of women in male-dominated cultures, and the marginalization of the mentally ill and those that are perceived to be sexually or socially deviant — ultimately elevates the trilogy beyond mere thriller/mystery status. It’s the reason I can sit here and read it (or watch it) multiple times and still the story will have lost none of its power, despite the fact that I already know all the answers to whatever mysteries it contains.
*For instance, lots of people become annoyed when he starts describing in detail meals characters eat, or actions they take that are seemingly irrelevant. I happen to find this quirk of his endearing, and all of those “irrelevant” details are part of what I love about his books.
Part of what fascinates me about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a first novel in a series is that Larsson kind of sneaks up on you with the point of it. You could very easily read the book and then assume that sequels will follow the pattern set up by the first one, and would focus on Salander and Blomkvist as a team who will solve mysteries like it in the future. Instead, Larsson mainly uses the story of the Vangers as an extended “meet-cute” for Salander and Blomkist, and to set up Salander as the protagonist. Her story is the real center of the trilogy. This book is as much about setting up the next two books as it’s about itself. Larsson wasn’t interested in creating a series of grocery-store mysteries. He was interested in delving into the nitty gritty of Salander’s life, and all the meaty stuff comes directly from it. She is the mystery and the challenge, not some murderer du jour.
The last thing I want to say is that it puzzles me when people express their disdain for this series by saying it’s misogynist. I have to wonder just exactly what kind of reading comprehension those people were taught in school, because these books are the very opposite of misogynist. Just because a story features misogyny as a theme, and characters who act in misogynistic or sexist ways, does not mean that story is espousing those misogynistic viewpoints. I can definitely understand people who simply object to the level of violence and dark sexuality that the book contains, but as far as I’m concerned, all that violence does have a very salient point at the end of it.
And now I’ve gone and lied to you about this being a short review. Whatever, I’m going to go make an omelet.
This is all Jason O’Mara’s fault.
I was perfectly content never having touched this series, perfectly content with the righteous indignation* I felt every time I passed the display table at Barnes & Noble with the movie-tie-in editions of this book piled three-high, like some ode to Katherine Heigl’s perfectly formed ass.
*Righteous indignation fueled by I’m not sure what . . . my tastes aren’t exactly Pulitzer grade.
It seems the universe had other plans for me, and those plans involved me watching the trailer (because Goodreads has it playing 24/7 right now in its sidebar ads), realizing that Katherine Heigl movie had Jason O’Mara in it too, and then giving in to my love of Jason O’Mara** by watching the trailer approximately fifteen more times. And then later, when I had stopped by Barnes & Noble to pick up some things, impulse buying the mass market paperback*** and binge reading it in a single day. I am an American consumer.
**Jason O’Mara is hot, but he doesn’t have great luck. Life on Mars was promising and I loved the character he played, but Terra Nova is kind of disaster, and he’s so stuffy in it. But he is dead sexy as Joe Morelli.
***I tried my darndest to get the one without The Heigl on it, but all they had was the $14.99 trade paperback with the original cover, and if I was going to waste money on a splurge, it was going to be the least amount of money possible.
One for the Money follows newly divorced, newly unemployed and broke Stephanie Plum as she navigates the perilous world of bounty hunting for the first time. She had to blackmail her pervert of a cousin in order to get the job, and she’s determined to keep it. That means buying a gun, learning how to use a gun, and learning how to bend the law to her advantage (stealing cars, breaking and entering? not a big deal when you’re a bounty hunter). Her first target? Childhood friend Joe Morelli, a rascally cop who’s wanted for murder. Also, this one time she ran him over with her Buick because he took her virginity behind the pastry counter of the bakery where she worked in high school, and then never called. If she can bring him in, she gets $10,000. What follows is a violent, funny romp through New Jersey as Stephanie gets in over her head and has to find her out of a bunch of crazy, madcap adventures.
This was a quick, fun read. I’ve heard people describe it as “a popcorn book,” and that seems like the perfect description: Light, slightly substantial, full of salty zing — will probably make you sick if you eat too much of it. I liked the voices of the characters; they didn’t feel generic or idealized like characters in most popcorn books. They’re sassy. I liked Stephanie’s commitment to a job that is terrifying, and that she’s not very good at. I liked the inspired lunacy of Lula the hooker, and Stephanie’s overbearing but well-meaning family. And I love rascally Joe Morelli, probably because I read too many romance novels as a teenager, but whatever. I’m not going to analyze it. The relationship between Stephanie and Morelli is fun, because I’m a sucker for antagonistic sexually charged relationships in fiction, and because their relationship isn’t a main focus, and because the way they interact with each other is kind of hilarious, it doesn’t feel nearly as cliched as it could. This is a line from the beginning of the book, when six year old Morelli takes six year old Stephanie into his garage to play “choo-choo,” which is the New Jersey version of playing doctor. What made me buy the book is the attitude dripping from this comment:
“At any rate, it was a one-shot deal and darn disappointing, since I’d only gotten to be the tunnel, and I’d really wanted to be the train.”
There are obvious flaws with the book. Maybe it gets better as the series goes along, but Evanovich’s writing is what I’m going to call grocery store prose (again, see the popcorn thing above). Stephanie also comes off a bit dumb in her insistence at not calling the police on a rapist/stalker because she wants to be seen as just as good as one of the guys. Maybe that’s just a 90s thing . . . I don’t see this as being much of a problem if this book were set in 2012. Which brings me to my final point, that this book is laughably dated. Like literally, it made me laugh out loud. I think some of this stuff may have been dated even in 1994. Stephanie spends most of the book wearing bicycle shorts and t-shirts the way most of us wear jeans (to work! and she thinks she looks good!). She is also frequently caught wearing scrunchy socks and Reeboks, and car phones are a big part of the plot. The best part about this is that she takes great care to describe her fashion choices to us, so you know she’s proud of them. But this isn’t a serious book, and it’s not mean to be taken that way, so really all the dated stuff just kind of adds to its charm. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining, and in that it certainly succeeds.
My only real complaint is that this freaking series has eighteen books in it . . . eighteen! I don’t need this in my life.
This book must be the most read book in airports over the last year. I’ve seen its distinctive yellow cover in more travelers’ hands than any other book I can remember. Which of course meant that I myself needed to read this on my own holiday travels! I had expected this novel to be along the lines of The Hunger Games trilogy, given that they are both trilogies, both have female protagonists, both have similar covers, both have movies coming out, and both are so ubiquitous. I was dead wrong, as this book is most certainly not a young adult novel, and could not be more different from the story and tone of The Hunger Games.
Read the rest of my review on my blog!