When Gillian Flynn’s iconic novel Gone Girl hit shelves back in 2012, it didn’t take readers long to realize they’d struck thriller gold. In the first year alone, the book sold more than two million copies and spawned an inestimable number of conversations between women about how liberating (and feasible!) it might be to vanish from their own lives. Hollywood quickly turned the bestseller into a movie and proved that a screen adaptation can be just as good as the original. Possibly even better.
This weekend, we get to see that trick again. Twelve years after its debut, another Flynn novel, Sharp Objects, has made its way to the screen—this time, the small one. A series by the same name debuts on HBO today.
Not to worry if you’re a diehard fan of the written word: We’ve had a sneak peak of the first five episodes, and largely the changes are TV business as usual. There are the compression of timelines and mixing of scenes, minor character makeovers, and the addition of cinematic magic. We’ll be getting into the differences between the series and the novel in deeper detail, episode by episode, in the weeks to come—and updating this story as we go. (There will be spoilers.)
For the most part, the series sticks to the storyline: Camille Preaker, a young reporter with a painful personal history, returns to her hometown to investigate the gruesome murders of two young girls, and she doesn’t so much stir up the past as whip it into a frenzy. Starring Amy Adams as Camille and Patricia Clarkson as her bloodless mother, Adora, the seven-episode show is just as hypnotic and dazzlingly dark as fans could have asked for. Though the eagle-eyed among you might notice it’s not a perfect facsimile.
There has been one relatively obvious overhaul: As Camille, Adams isn’t the mangled twentysomething of the novel but an older, more grizzled version of that self, and other characters are aged up accordingly. Mostly, the show benefits from the layers that can’t help but appear when text takes on flesh and a talented ensemble cast brings it all to life—two reasons it is being called this summer's Big Little Lies. The overall effect is a series that results in feverish obsession, even if you already know how it ends—the true sign of a great adaptation, which is exactly what HBO’s Sharp Objects is.
Episode 1: “Vanish” (Air date: July 8)
Much like the beginning of the book, the kickoff episode of the series introduces us to key characters and sets us up for what we’re in for. But there are some departures from the original right off the bat. First of all, in the novel, Camille is working at a third-rate newspaper in the suburbs of Chicago. In the series, the location has been switched to St. Louis, where she’s a reporter at an arguably more high-profile paper, the fictitious St. Louis Chronicle. When she gets the assignment from her editor, Curry, he references how another reporter had covered a hometown murder story and won a Pulitzer; in the book, he referenced a different story, about a reporter who had covered a flood in Texas and took home the coveted journalism prize.
When she arrives in the town of Wind Gap, she meets detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) almost immediately, while she’s headed to aide in the search for the missing girl. We quickly learn that—in addition to being an alcoholic—Camille is a chainsmoker. In the book, smoking isn't a core part of her character; her constant puffing in the series alludes to the pervasiveness of her self-destructive tendencies.
The ghosts that haunt Camille’s past, on the other hand, are much more clearly drawn in the novel—from the boys who chased her into the woods when she was a teenager to the relationship she had with her long-dead sister, Marian (played by Lulu Wilson). The scenes showing the girls together as pre-teens, both healthy, help establish something that the book skirts: that Marian’s illness was not ever-present, but rather something that came and went. The novel also puts more distance in age between the two girls, while the series makes them seem more like peers.
When it comes to the mother character, the series makes it clearer earlier on that Adora is not just a fragile flower; there is anger boiling below the surface, which Camille is capable of provoking. Amma—Adora’s other daughter and Camille’s half-sister—is portrayed as slightly older in the series (in keeping with the general up-aging of the family), as well as with an overall more empathetic character. Rather than terrorizing Camille at the outset, she befriends her early on, demonstrating that they are alike in the sense that they both refuse to be controlled by Adora—Amma just does a better job of hiding her double life.
Perhaps the biggest shift from book to series in the premiere is the way it engages with Camille’s memories of her sister Marian’s funeral. While in the book we get snippets of memories, in the series the depiction is viscerally detailed, from Marian’s dying moments to Camille approaching her small casket and trying to vigorously rub the pink lipstick from the dead girl’s lips, and being dragged away. Overall, what we get from this episode is an enhanced understanding of the relationship between the two girls, which gives greater context to why Camille is such a mess as an adult, almost two decades later.
WATCH: The Relevance of Sharp Objects Today
Episode 2: “Dirt” (Air date: July 15)
In this episode, we get to know more about the murders, as well as about secondary characters in a way that expands upon their roles in the book. Adora’s husband, Alan, becomes more dynamic: Music becomes a marker of his onscreen character; he is the pianist at Natalie Keene’s funeral after her body is found, and also has an impressive speaker setup on the ground floor of the family home. We also meet the Nash family, whose daughter, Ann, was killed a year before the most recent murder, and find all the kids slightly older than they are in the book.
We also see Camille sneak into Natalie Keene’s bedroom after her funeral, where she finds a spider in a jar and brings it outdoors to release into the wild, at which point she meets Natalie’s father, a series of events that was not in the novel. Calls between Camille and her editor, Curry, and his wife, Aileen, are more intimate than in the novel; they seem invested in Camille in a way that feels very parental, and Aileen is clearly concerned that Curry has pushed Camille to do something she wasn’t ready to do.
But the biggest shifts from the novel in this episode have to do with Detective Richard Willis as well as Camille’s behavior. When Richard finds out from the coroner that the girls’ teeth were removed with household pliers after their death, he decides he needs to understand how hard it would be to do that and acquires a pig head to bring home so he can try it out himself—a scene that’s missing from the book, but adds a new layer of disturbing detail to the story. As for Camille: Though in the novel she is largely portrayed as being in recovery from her self-harm behavior—cutting, which we now understand is alluded to in the book and show’s title—in this episode she acquires a travel sewing kit at the local gas station and keeps it at the ready. In the final moments of the show, she puts the needle to use in a way that might make even the least squeamish of viewers feel compelled to look away.
Come back for the book-to-show breakdown of the new episode, every Sunday.