Those of you who have been following the blog for sometime will know that I was one of the many, many people who were completely gripped and somewhat infatuated with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I liked its spikiness, I liked its darkness and I loved the extremely unlikeable and manipulative hearts of its characters. I like to read a nasty book occasionally, one that exorcises all those thoughts we don’t like to admit to in the safety of our own brains/homes. So naturally I was very excited to learn that a new novella from Gillian, The Grownup, was out – whilst also being rather shocked at how long ago I read Gone Girl and how long I have left Dark Places and Sharp Objects – and so the other night I sat and gobbled it up in a single sitting. Be warned, this post contains adult themes, very ‘grownup’ ones if you will.
Orion Books, 2015, paperback, fiction, 79 pages, kindly sent by the publisher
I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.
So starts the tale of our nameless narrator in Gillian Flynn’s novella The Grownup, which started life as the short story What Do You Do? in an anthology for George R. R. Martin. Many of us have often had to make a career change, be it for better prospects, getting away from an awful boss who you hated and wished the ground would swallow up or because your circumstances or skill sets have changed. For our protagonist she has recently had to change jobs for health reasons, so good and skilled is she at giving men hand jobs she has only gone and got carpal tunnel syndrome.
However, whilst her employers don’t have a good occupational health assessment or system, they do have a have a facade out front that hides the secret deeds out front as the shop frontage is that of a fortune teller and psychic. So rather than be penniless she turns her hand (as it were) to reading peoples body languages in a different way and telling them their futures, or in some cases simply what they want to hear. One day Susan Burke turns up, a woman new to the city who has moved into a house with her husband, step son and son, yet the house it seems doesn’t want them there and is seemingly channelling its energy through one of the members of the family. Initially our heroine (of sorts) doesn’t believe her, until she goes to the house itself.
It lurked. It was the only remaining Victorian house in a long row of boxy new construction, and maybe that’s why it seemed alive, calculating…
I really, really enjoyed The Grownup. From the off I was initially dragged in by the fact that it is a bit saucy and rude which we all like from time to time. As it goes on though the depths and layers of the story grab you all the more. Within the matter of a few pages, as with Gone Girl, you are instantly drawn into the world of someone you aren’t sure if you really like or really don’t. What you do very quickly know is that either way you want to know how this person’s story will unfold and enjoy guessing (often wrongly) as to what the outcome will be along the way. I think Flynn’s ability to get into these complex and multi-faceted characters, good or bad, was superb in Gone Girl. I think the fact she does it in mere pages here is marvellous and she should be given a huge amount of credit for that and not just her twisting plots, especially as this is all done in less than 80 pages from start to finish.
The other thing I really like about Gillian Flynn’s writing is her sense of humour and her snarkiness. I am quite a fan of snark, if it is handled correctly and people know you’re being snarky and not just a bit of an arsehole, for there is a thin line. I think Flynn has a way of giving that wry dark humour and wit that treads the path very finely and made me giggle, sometimes inappropriately, as I read on. I also loved the fact that The Grownup is also a story about stories and some of those brilliant stories that walk the line between supernatural thriller and suspenseful mystery.
The only thing I really knew about Mike was he loved books. He recommended books with the fervour I’ve always craved as an aspiring nerd: with urgency and camaraderie. You have to read this! Pretty soon we have our own private (occasionally sticky) book club. He was big into “Classic Stories of the Supernatural” and he wanted me to be too (“You are a psychic after all,” he said with a smile). So that way we discussed the themes of loneliness and need in The Haunting of Hill House, he came, I sani-wiped myself and grabbed his loaner for next time: The Woman in White. (“You have to read this! It’s one of the all-time best.”)
What makes The Grownup so wonderfully twisty, as I was hoping it would be, is not just the brilliant and rather warped plot but also the fact that this story often sits in that no man’s land between supernatural thriller and amateur sleuthing. In parts you are wondering if this is a ghost story, at other moments you feel like this could be the tale of a murderous blood bath waiting to happen. What you get might end up being neither, it could be something much trickier and darker. I don’t want to give anything away so I will stop right there thank you very much.
I will simply end by saying that if you like a book with a gothic sensibility, a hint of the supernatural, a murderous intent and a questionable narrator at its heart then you need to grab a copy of this. The Grownup is a perfect short burst of escapism pitch perfect for the darker nights as they draw in. I really, really enjoyed it.