SPOOKTACULAR BOOK REVIEW: COME CLOSER- by Sara Gran

The Halloween season is upon us, and what’s the best way to celebrate? Well, there’s getting stupidly drunk and sexifying a character that should never be sexified, but in second place there’s reading a creepy psychological novel about demonic possession!

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Why did something like this happen?

Come Closer tells the tale of a woman under demonic possession from the victim’s point of view. There’s no spinning heads or ‘I see dead people’ or earth shattering superpowers, but we a fascinating psychological descent into anarchy as our heroine sabotages her life in what could either be a straight up demonic possession or an analogy for a psychological break down.

It starts out subtle- with nothing worse than a few bitchy comments and some random tapping in the house- and it remains fairly mundane throughout- right until the end when it gets amped up with our protagonist’s actions becoming far more dangerous and her visions even more eerie.

It’s incredibly well written. I don’t get scared or creeped out by horror, especially the supernatural stuff ( the infamous Shining had no effect on me), but the end scenes were brutal, bleak, disturbing (yet never gratuitous), and as awful as the heroine had been throughout the novel, you genuinely felt for her desperate final struggle to hold on to her humanity. The end was completely fitting, and the final analysis- who Namaah was and how she fitted into the heroine’s story- was really good.

And it’s the psychological themes that raise this novel to the next level. Traditionally, demons have been portrayed as psychological tempters, so it makes sense that her actions should come from within her. There’s a whole lot about how the expectations of womanhood are constraining, and how some men can’t bear to see women as fully flawed and messy. Though even better, its not a simple ‘you go gurrrl’ case of ‘poor oppressed woman against big bad man’- it’s more complex than that. Her husband- the main other presence in this novel besides our narrator and the demon Namaah- comes across as a decent person. He really puts up with a lot and does try to help her. She also contradicts herself, telling us how reliable he is and then going crazy telling us how he’s always late, suggesting some of his ‘flaws’ are in her head and that she’s just using it as an excuse to justify lashing out at him when her real problems are her own repressed issues.

I got the impression that the real confining chains in her life didn’t come from any  man, but her own internalized expectations of what a woman should be that grows more suffocating each day. That’s some pretty nuanced stuff and a great use of the unreliable narrator.

Come Closer was so good, so well paced, so well written that it could have been the perfect novella. But there was one little problem… one slight, small, planet swallowing black hole of an issue that only consisted of a few sentences, but my God did it create an awful blight that tainted the whole novella. I am of course, for those of you who have already read it, referring to…

CASUAL HOMOPHOBIA!!

Yep, it just comes out and punches you in the face. I’m not talking about the usual patronizing  gay stereotypes or ‘that’s so gay’ being carelessly thrown around to describe anything that’s generally shit. No, this novel goes full f-bomb nucleur. In the very first chapter we have our protagonist writing a letter to her boss calling him the gay f-bomb. And not just in a generic ‘that’s just a word I use to insult people’ way, its perfectly clear that she’s degrading him by insinuating he’s one of dem icky gays by compounding it with a few other choice insults that make that perfectly clear. Sure, the letter writing incident was framed as nasty and something she did under demon control, but then our heroine emphatically agrees with the statement.

It was so jarring, so malicious and came so out of no where that I pondered for a while that whether it was meant to be the demon controlling her mind, or as a way of showing just how repugnant our heroine is. But, at that stage of the story Naamah hadn’t really begun to control our heroine’s thoughts yet. Later in the book she describes a young man as a ‘flaming queer’- not out of anger, not in a stage when she was implied to be under the demon’s  thrall, but casually as just as a generic description- like how you might describe someone’s dress. So yeah, clearly the author’s trying too hard to sound ‘edgy’ or she thinks homophobia is totes okay.

I really enjoyed this novel, but I just can’t really get down with a novel that throws around such blatant homophobia.

VERDICT: I don’t know. It’s a really well written story and explored fascinating themes of female agency with some great use of Judaic myth, but by God, did the pointless, virulent homophobia put a downer on the whole thing.

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