Sharp Objects: the series and the book

Are you the type to often obsess over a movie or a book?

Well, I must confess I am. And I also must confess that I intentionally inserted that “often” there, to discreetly (well, not so much so anymore!) imply that this is a state I found myself in more than once. Much more than once.

And this time we’re talking about a double obsession, as I’ll try to explain – and hopefully do that without any spoilers – what is it that’s so captivating about “Sharp Objects”, the TV series AND the book.

First thing to note, and a recommendation from my part, is to take them exactly in this order: first watch the series and then read the book. It used to be kind of a universal truth that you should start with the book; I find that this is not valid anymore, with so many movies and series that are standing on their own two feet even if they are inspired or closely follow the action in a book.
In this case, both are great. The book is written by Gillian Flynn, who is the author of “Gone Girl” and “Dark Places”, and she is also part of the team creating the series directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (does “Big Little Lies” ring a bell?).

So, there’s probably no surprise that the novel is a must read and the TV show one to definitely watch. But why see the series first?, you might ask. Because it bottles up the novel’s dark atmosphere and troubled characters and offer them to you straight up, unapologetically and somehow forcing you to see the essence of who they are.

To be honest, the TV show feels much darker than the book and while reading it I used to stop and think that the characters are more human and softer here. Also, the narrative is a bit extended, it offers context for how they got to be as they are. And the book goes further after the series abruptly ends with that “Don’t….”. Aaaaa, no, I said no spoilers!!!

Right, spoilers free then, here’s what happens: Camille Preaker is a crime reporter coming back to her home town, Wind Gap, to investigate the murders of two local little girls. Except that’s not the only thing she’s doing, as the story of her confronting her past – most gloriously embodied by Adora, her mother – takes center stage.

Now, and this is not a spoiler as it will be obvious from the first time you see her – Adora is the perfect villain. I saw an interview with Patricia Clarkson, the actress playing Adora, saying that Gillian Flynn advised her not to read the book and just follow the script. That might seem surprising, but when you read the book you understand why. Adora is, again, more toned down in the book, not as cold and sharp as she is on screen. So when you get to the book, you might find some explanations for her behavior, but it doesn’t matter because you will be already in love with her dark side.

Camille also has a dark side. Or several, actually, but I would say she is a kind human being. She is played by Amy Adams, who manages to bring life to all the ranges of emotions that Camille goes through, especially when dealing with her mother. In the book, she is described as the town’s beauty queen, dealing now with her drinking problem, among others. Adams’ performance dials down a bit the beauty part and up on the feeling. A feeling of unrest which complements quite nicely the quest theme.

The story, which I’m not going to detail upon, is pretty much about women. It might seem the opposite at first, but it is a feminist novel. The twist here is that it talks about equality, but from a surprising perspective: women can be as bad as men, they can do mean stuff, they can be criminals, they can have a dark side. They have the right to be as guilty as men who do terrible things. It does sound twisted, doesn’t it? But when you think about it, I would say it makes total sense.

And speaking of women, the character of Amma, Camille’s little half-sister, is one to watch. In the book, she’s really an annoying brat, but the TV persona is quite charmingly bad, in this case I really prefer the show to the book.

What’s really interesting about this whole series/book dichotomy is that both come from the same person’s mind, which I find so captivating. That’s reason enough to give both a try, but then the more captivating thing is that you get to replay the series by reading the book and now your own interpretation comes into play. You know, that movie that we play in our minds when we read a book. My movie would have been quite different shouldn’t I have seen the show in advance.

I mean…creepy filmed and lit scenes, haunting music, visual riddles? They wouldn’t have crossed my mind, I’m quite convinced about this. The written words may mean different things to different persons, especially when we’re alone with them and, to put it bluntly, I think that my own interpretation of this book wouldn’t have been so daring as the one on the screen.

And, speaking of written words, you’ll see that they play a central role in the action. But giving you more details on this would really be a spoiler…

Needless to say, I could go on and on about this, or rather around it, as it’s quite a challenge not to get in the depth of things. So not to drag this text for ever and ever, I’ll stop here.

But I do hope that you will not and that you’ll enjoy the story, however you choose to experience it.

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