The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: November 5th, 2015
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Pages: 80 pages
Synopsis: A young woman is making a living, faking it as a cut-price psychic working at Spiritual Palms (with some illegal soft-core sex work on the side). She makes a decent wage – mostly by telling people what they want to hear. But then she meets Susan Burke. Susan moved to the city one year ago with her husband and 15-year old stepson Miles. They live in a Victorian house called Carterhook Manor, built in 1893. Susan has become convinced that some malevolent spirit is inhabiting their home, and taking possession of the stepson. She has even found trickles of blood on the wall. The young woman doesn’t believe in exorcism or the supernatural, but she does see an opportunity to make a lot of money. However when she enters the house for the first time, and meets Miles, she begins to feel it too, as if the very house is watching her, waiting, biding its time….
This is a spoiler-free review.
For me, it is extremely challenging to write a review on any of Gillian Flynn’s work without an excessive amount of excitement and an inability to get my thoughts straight. Her stories constantly leave me in a state of shock, both at her complex, meticulously plotted story lines as well as her beautiful and skillful writing itself. This woman has an unbelievable talent for the written word and the construction of unique and multidimensional thrillers that stick in one’s mind long after turning the final page.
Throughout the course of this story, we follow the nameless protagonist, a young woman making a living as a fake psychic, as well as practicing some questionable backroom work on the side. She is a very classic Gillian Flynn female protagonist, emerging from a dark past into a gray present. Flawed yet strong, and quite talented at manipulation, she is one of those characters that will do anything in her power to get want she wants, regardless of how her actions affect others. She has a flair for the dramatic and an aptitude for inspiring trust from others.
One day, a very distraught woman named Susan arrives for psychic counseling. Believing not only that spirits have invaded her house, Carterhook Manor, but that they are also attacking her incredibly disturbed stepson, Miles, she employs our main character to cleanse the house.
Of course, our main character has no actual ability to help this family, but seeing this as a way to rake in some extra money while having to do very minimal work, she is unable to pass up the opportunity. However, she ends up getting a lot more than she bargained for. After a series of harrowing events at the house, she finds herself beginning to believe in Susan’s outlandish fears, and tries her hardest to save the family from whatever harmful forces might be at work there.
The writing, the intricate and twisted plotting, the vivid characterization, as always, are all absolutely stellar. Though this story is very much classic Gillian Flynn material, in certain ways it has a bit of a different quality to it than some of her other work. I found that it sort of felt like some of the old psychological thriller films that I enjoy watching—with a modern twist to it, of course. It is unclear for a while what direction Flynn plans on taking the story—what genre she will be focusing on—and that adds yet another layer of mystery for the reader. And when questions are answered, when that mystery fully unfolds, Flynn once again leaves us all shocked and breathless.
The ending is really the only aspect of this story that I have slightly more mixed feelings on. That is not specifically due to the fact that it is an open ending in general—I typically love a well-written open ending, provided it fits solidly into the story as a whole. It is perfectly possible to feel satisfied without knowing exactly what happened after the final pages of a novel, and to be given the chance to imagine your own conclusion or further events. In my opinion, the idea of using an open ending definitely works well and seems appropriate given the overall plot and feeling of this story. However, there is just something a bit off about the one that Flynn presents us with.
This storyline wraps up far too abruptly—it is surprising, but too rushed for my taste. I think my main issue with the ending stems from the fact that it comes across as entirely too much of a twist. It is absolutely fantastic when a book shocks you with something completely unexpected, but it has to be at least somewhat coherent in the context of the rest of the plot. The sudden revelations here seem to be a bit jammed in, come completely out of left field, and are just slightly too far-fetched. It was as if I had fallen into a completely different story in the final pages. So, while it is clear that it is intended to leave the reader in amazement and suspense—and it did completely stun me—it left me a little too unsatisfied and confused.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and it was beautiful display of why Gillian Flynn is one of my all-time favorite writers. She is a brilliant storyteller who, time and time again, completely nails the mystery and psychological thriller genres. A master at crafting complex plots and intriguing characters with dark tales, she excels at captivating her readers and holding them in an iron grip until the final word. Though I might not recommend this for a first experience with Gillian Flynn’s work, I would very highly recommend giving this a read if you have enjoyed her novels.