Shelf Indulgence is a book column from award-winning novelist, A.D. Garrett. This book review column recommends two books per month, across a range of styles and genres, and a mixture of new and old.
SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn
When I first read this in 2007, Gillian Flynn was an unknown, and Sharp Objects was her debut. It was shortlisted for three CWA Dagger awards in the same year, and deservedly won two.
Camille Preaker is a writer – on so many levels. Words have a visceral effect on her: they flare, buzz, itch, scream. She escaped the small-town hell of Wind Gap, but returns to report on the disappearance of a child, and is sent spiralling back into the harrowing events of her own loveless childhood. Camille calls herself ‘trash – from old money’, and her mother is manipulative, damaged and needy. Adora (never ‘Mom’), is appropriately named; it’s what she demands – total adoration. She has made a monster of Camille’s half-sister, the preening, sexually precocious child of Adora’s second marriage. The mystery of the girls’ disappearances is inextricably linked to Camille, who must unravel the secrets of her childhood while averting the disintegration of her own personality. The wonderful balance of wit and creepy suspense in Sharp Objects will make you dread turning the page, yet compel you to read on.
WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? by Jeanette Winterson
Vintage, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0099556091
Why Be Happy . . . ? begins with a description of a mother: ‘A woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge.’ One of the many surprises of this book is that it is not crime fiction – nor even a novel – but a memoir. The ‘woman’ is Constance Winterson, Jeanette’s adoptive mother, a monstrous depressive who terrorized her husband and daughter; a desperately lonely woman who adopted a baby because she wanted a friend.
The cruelties perpetrated on Jeannette were outrageous, harrowing and appalling, yet Winterson’s memoir is bursting with humour. And there is unexpected kindness along the way, too: the kindly neighbour who buys her a bag of chips; the teacher who lets her stay, rent-free, in her attic when Constance kicks her out; the famous author who provides a place to write, and lifelong support and friendship. Winterson is erudite and earthy, angry and philosophical by turns; she draws on literature, fairy tales, folk lore and oral tradition to examine the complexities of life, and her difficulties with loving and being loved.
Her honesty is searing, but never self-indulgent; there’s also playfulness here, a sage look back at a life lived to the full. It is also a reflection on hope; a life spent, not being happy, but ‘in the pursuit of happiness’. It is the story of finding a way to love from a loveless childhood.
Truth Will Out by A.D. Garrett, the latest in the Fennimore & Simms series, is now available in paperback.