Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Like any lover of books and cinema, I’m always excited to watch a film adaptation of a book I’ve finished reading. Most recently, I’ve been interested in the literary miniseries trend, where producers transform a book into several television episodes, often adding complexity to the story with additional characters and storylines. The HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, does exactly this.
Both the book and miniseries follow Camille Preaker, a mediocre reporter who is sent on an assignment to cover the murders of two preteen girls in her tiny hometown, Wind Gap. Camille’s editor, Curry, senses a compelling story is waiting to be uncovered in the southern town, but he also believes sending Camille to her hometown could be healing for her since she recently had a brief stay at a psych hospital after self-harming. Once in Wind Gap, Camille receives a chilling, unwelcoming greeting from her mother, meets her half-sister for the first time, and struggles to find any information on the case from townsfolk, the police, or the dapper detective from out of town. Amidst her own troublesome memory and trauma, Camille feels she must unravel the story of her town and her own past to make sense of this mystery.
While I think the miniseries was excellently cast, I think actress Patricia Clarkson (as Adora, Camille’s mother) was particularly accurate. From her appearance, to her mannerisms, costume, voice, and acting, Clarkson’s portrayal of Adora felt spot on. Clarkson captured the Adora I had imagined while reading the book, and it was amazing to see her acting on screen in this series.
While there were several changes made in the miniseries—including an additional storyline about Camille’s rehab roommate, a scene about Calhoun Day that created a toxic Southern Gothic atmosphere, and more town drama in general—I think the most substantial change between book and television was the removal of the first person narrator.
In Gillian Flynn’s novel, we receive all of our information through the mouth of Camille Preaker. On the other hand, in the HBO series, we lack this narration and are not limited to one perspective. I think this cinematic choice made Camille’s alcohol abuse much more apparent in the story. While there were certainly murmurs of alcoholism in the novel, the first person narration did not emphasize this self-medication issue as seriously as the miniseries did.
The choice to remove the first person narrator also makes it harder for the viewer to access Camille’s complex mental states. In the book, the reader gets to see Camille’s thoughts and trauma unveiled—or, at least, as unveiled as Camille is willing to let her thoughts be. In the miniseries, the viewer must rely on fairly chaotic flashbacks to Camille’s haunting memories to understand her mind instead. This reliance on flashbacks to explain Camille’s mind seems to downplay Camille’s sexual trauma, which was more apparent in the book. It also makes Camille’s mental illness more mysterious since the viewer is left to fill in his or her own conclusions.
Of course, most obviously, the miniseries’ removal of the first person narrator also allows the viewer more information to which Camille is not privy. For example, the miniseries provides much more insight into the out-of-town detective and Camille’s editor, making them both more likable characters.
Another (albeit less significant but still interesting) change was the miniseries’ inclusion of music. The soundtrack is entirely diegetic, so whenever a song is featured, it’s because a character turned on a radio, pulled out an old iPod, or started a record. In order to accomplish this feat and avoid creating a dull soundscape, the miniseries gave Alan (Adora’s husband and Camille’s stepfather) a strange obsession with music. In much of the series, the viewer finds Alan tinkering with his stereo system, turning a blind eye—and ear—to the more sinister things happening around him. The miniseries also gave Camille a cracked iPod, which belonged to her old roommate from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. These two additional items provide most of the soundtrack for the series.
In large part, I think the television series and original novel both use their literary and cinematic advantages to highlight the dangers of denial. Throughout this suspenseful story, we see both young and grown characters deny traumatic memories of rape, abuse, and bullying. We see Camille struggling to accept herself and denying vulnerability, pain, love, healing, and truth. We see a townswoman named Jackie who denies a horrible truth she has uncovered about a lifelong friend that she refuses to reveal. And we see the town denying the reality of the two murders as they place more importance on maintaining their own social reputation and standing.
I usually say the book is better than the film adaptation, but I think this HBO miniseries gave Sharp Objects a run for its money. All the same, I recommend starting with the book so you have the opportunity to see dreary, ominous Wind Gap through Camille’s own eyes first.
No. of episodes: 8
Main actors: Amy Adams (as Camille Preaker), Patricia Clarkson (as Adora Crellin), Eliza Scanlen (as Amma Crellin)