Gillian Flynn has written three novels, all of which have been adapted to the screen. While all three stories differ in plenty of ways, a close Sharp Objects vs. Gone Girl comparison reveals some surprising similarities within the author's oeuvre. Of course, audiences will well remember the story of Nick and Amy Dunne from David Fincher's 2014 film starring Ben Affleck and an Oscar-nominated Rosamund Pike. And now, four years later, Flynn's first novel has been adapted as an entirely different form: a television miniseries starring Amy Adams. (Dark Places, Flynn's sophomore effort, was also turned into a movie in 2015, although it came and went with relatively little fanfare.)
Obviously, both Gone Girl and Sharp Objects are crime dramas featuring women as both the victims and perpetrators of violence. In their twisted, twisty stories, Flynn couples dark psychological drama about relationships — marriage, mother-daughter bonds — with some good old-fashioned detective work. But the similarities go beyond the dead (or missing) women and into a surprising number of layers hiding in the depths of these two tales.
So what do the sagas of Amy Dunne and Camille Preaker have in common? And where do they diverge? The path begins in the Show-Me State…
Both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl take place within the borders of Flynn's own home state — but this similarity also highlights some stark differences. Missouri is an odd state, either Midwestern or Southern in its affect, depending on where you are. Gone Girl took place in the affluent suburbs south of St. Louis, whereas Sharp Objects takes place in the southernmost "boot heel" of the state, which lies parallel to Tennessee.
Not only do both stories take place in Missouri, they both feature characters returning to their Missouri hometowns after long absences. In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne moves back to North Carthage after a failed stint in New York City, bringing his disaffected Big Apple fiancée with him. In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker is sent back to Wind Gap from St. Louis (Chicago in the book) to cover a series of murders.
In both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Flynn uses her Missouri setting to explore some stark class divisions. Camille bluntly states how everyone from Wind Gap is either "old money or trash"; her mother owns the hog farm that employs most of the town, and she reigns from her gorgeous isolated mansion while her own factory workers struggle to make ends meet amongst meth addiction and debilitating poverty. The middle class illusions of North Carthage, meanwhile, are rudely interrupted by the specter of an old abandoned shopping mall where vagrants live — and where Amy went to purchase a gun.
A former journalist herself (writing reviews for Entertainment Weekly before turning to crime novels), Flynn often makes her characters writers as well. Sharp Objects' main character works at a struggling local newspaper, whereas Gone Girl's married protagonists are both journalists of a sort: he's a men's magazine writer-turned-teacher, she pens personality quizzes. Oh, and Amy Dunne is also the inspiration for a series of children's books, the Amazing Amy series.
5. Female Protagonists
Speaking of Amazing Amy, the most outwardly notable commonality between all three of Flynn's books are their complex female characters (including Dark Places' Libby Day). But other than being fascinating portraits of strong women, Camille Preaker and Amy Dunne could not have less in common. Camille puts up an air of unapproachability to protect herself from the world, while Amy carefully crafts a "cool girl" aura. Camille is fundamentally devoted to learning the truth and finding justice, while Amy weaves webs of subtle manipulation and outright lies. And, of course, Camille seeks to solve acts of violence while Amy wantonly commits them.
6. Unreliable Narrators
Even though Camille is seeking the truth of Natalie's and Ann's murders, Amy's not the only one weaving lies. While Flynn writes both stories from first-person perspectives, neither Amy's nor Camille's subjective experience of the world can be taken entirely for granted. Of course, Amy's entire diary of accusations against Nick turns out to be fabricated, but Camille's no stranger to disguising the truth, either. She doesn't reveal her habit of self-harm until well into Flynn's novel (or until the end of the show's premiere), and her recollection of her own past can never entirely be trusted, either.
7. Violence Against Women
Reflecting their wildly divergent protagonists, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl also both offer wildly different takes on the idea of violence against women as a plot device in crime dramas. While Natalie Keene and Ann Nash are perhaps more of your typical "beautiful dead girls" in the vein of Laura Palmer or Rosie Larsen, Amy Dunne takes that well-worn trope and weaponizes it, turning it against her philandering husband. (Mild spoiler) Adding another interesting wrinkle is the fact that almost all the violence committed in Flynn's stories is committed by women as well.
8. Violence Against Self
Not only do women commit violence against other women in both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, but they also commit it against themselves. Amy drains her own blood and smashes her own face with a hammer; Camille compulsively carves words into her own skin. But while Amy commits that violence to ultimately harm another, Camille's acts of self-harm are born out of a truer sense of self-loathing — and therefore feel all the more painful.
9. Plot Twists
Of course, what would a good crime story be without a great plot twist? Both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl harbor hidden hairpin turns for their audiences; but while the former's surprise comes more traditionally at the end in the solution to the crime, the latter is all the more surprising for coming at the halfway point… and revealing that there was never really a crime at all.
Sharp Objects and Gone Girl may be cut from the same cloth, but they carry plenty of distinguishing marks. Ultimately, Sharp Objects may tell a more conventional murder mystery than Gone Girl, but it's the brutal honesty of Camille's inner perspective — as opposed to Amy's inherent unknowability — that lends the story its lingering power.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.