Saturday 21 April 2018

Books: Stopgap novella might be forgotten, but it's not Gone

Fiction: The Grownup, Gillian Flynn, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, hdbk, 80 pages, £3.99

Gillian Flynn.
Gillian Flynn.
The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn.

The pressure to write the next book after Gone Girl must be immense. Gillian Flynn's third novel has been extraordinarily successful, selling millions of copies, it was made into a hit movie and it's become one of the most talked about novels of recent years.

With this stopgap publication, Flynn and her publisher have sidestepped that pressure. The Grownup is a short story masquerading as a novella, a story that first appeared last year under a different title, 'What Do You Do?', in an anthology put together by George R R Martin, and which is now published as a standalone stocking filler.

In terms of narrative style and plotting, The Grownup has a lot in common with its predecessor. The voice in particular has echoes and resonances, with our unnamed narrator delivering the story in a sardonic and bitter tone reminiscent of Amy in Gone Girl.

Flynn shows a typically healthy disregard for propriety and conventional morals with her attention-grabbing opening lines: "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."

And the reader is hooked. Our narrator works in Spiritual Palms, a dodgy fun palace that provides hand jobs through the back while fleecing gullible women with psychic fortune-telling out front. Our narrator graduates to the front, her empathy and natural grifting tendencies lending themselves to her new work.

One day, a woman called Susan comes in claiming that her house is haunted, it's affecting the behaviour of her teenage stepson Miles, and the narrator sees a chance to expand her hustling activities, offering to come round and cleanse the house for a steep fee. Intent on a leisurely scam, she is distressed to find that she really feels something creepy in the old gothic house, with Miles's behaviour particularly disturbing and threatening.

Things escalate nicely, and Flynn handles the throbbing suspense and horror build-up as expertly as ever. As you might expect, there are a couple of big twists and reveals, although this reviewer spotted them coming down the tracks.

The problem here, I think, is down to simple length and depth of story. In this shortened, condensed format, it's harder to embed the background and clues to a twist without the reader noticing, though that doesn't stop them being a lot of macabre fun when they arrive.

The Grownup is accomplished storytelling, an impressive teaser to keep fans engaged while they await her next full-length outing.

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