Contemporary Novellas: Come Closer by Sara Gran #NovNov

Come Closer is a marvellously creepy novella that blends horror and psychological thriller tropes to brilliant effect.

What we think is impossible happens all the time.

Amanda is a successful architect, who lives in a spacious modern loft with her equally successful husband Ed. Life appears good for Amanda, with a solid marriage and an even more solid career but on a subconscious level she is aware that she has lost her sense of self in her quest to attain the perfect life.

So, when she is called into her boss calls her to his office, she is expecting nothing untoward.

He is holding a proposal she left for him the day before, but the innocuous message she left on it has been replaced by an expletive-filled rant revealing her true feelings about him. Amanda knows she didn’t write it (although she doesn’t disagree with it), so the question is, who did?

This unsettling opening is just the beginning of a series of strange happenings that threaten to capsize Amanda’s carefully constructed life. A tapping noise can be heard throughout her home; she shoplifts a lipstick without realising, or even wanting it; she starts smoking again and befriends a stray dog that has taken to following her home from the train station at night.

These events are out of character but Amanda can at least rationalise her behaviour. Things take a turn for the worse when she skips work to go drinking in dive bars, begins to rack up debt buying clothes she would never usually wear and hooks up with random men for sex. Her behaviour is threatening her marriage and her career.

Coupled with confusing and unsettling dreams and regular black-outs, Amanda begins to suspect the she may have been possessed by a demon. She dreams of Naamah, a beautiful demon with whom she wades in seas of blood. Naamah promises Amanda that she loves her and will never leave her alone again. Amanda mail-orders a book on architecture, but instead she’s sent a volume on demon possession which seems to confirm her worst fears. Naamah is taking her over.

An encroaching sense of instability propels this slim novella and Gran presents Amanda’s descent in a matter-of-fact manner which makes it all the more terrifying, but she smartly balances the fear out with another, rather unexpected emotion, exhilaration. There is a sense that Amanda is in some sense enjoying her escapades, finally succumbing to her wants and needs with no concern for anyone else. Amanda is undoubtedly horrified by how she is behaving, but her urge to put a cigarette out on her husband’s leg comes across as a long-held desire, rather than an out-of-character thought.

When a man tries to intimidate her late at night at a train station, Amanda turns the tables in the most satisfying of ways…

“And you never know. I mean, in the city you just never know who you’re dealing with. They might have a knife, or a gun, or whatever. They might, I don’t know, be the kind of person who hates men who hang out in train stations, waiting for women. She might be the kind of person who takes men like that and rips them limb from fucking limb with her bare hands.” The man left the station without a word, and the train took me home safe and sound.

This is what makes Come Closer so captivatingly unnerving. On the surface Gran is creating a deliberate and mischievous tale of a demonic possession which hurtles towards a genuinely horrible denouement, but she also suggests that the spirit that is supposedly taking over Amanda’s life, may instead be Amanda’s own fracturing mind ridding itself of conventional expectations.

By having Amanda narrate the book, Gran creates an ambiguous atmosphere which means that the book can be read two ways. After visiting several psychiatrists, Amanda convinces herself that they are also demons. An attempt at exorcism is even less successful. Is Amanda possessed or is she losing the grip on her own mind? Is she becoming empowered or overcome? And when it all comes down to it, which is actually the more frightening?   

Reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic The Yellow Wallpaper, Come Closer is a taut, claustrophobic tale that is served well by its short length. It is a genuinely creepy book, and I’m not often scared by books, yet contains a surprising amount of dark humour and a subtle ambiguity that leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination.  

Gran has successfully taken the notion of demonic possession and explored it in terms of the female psyche and the impulse of civilised people to rebel against the expectations that society imposes.

Novellas in November

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

16 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Cathy746! Come Closer is one of my favorite creepy reads; in fact, I almost read it last month for my own little bookish Halloween celebration! I Loved your review & really thought you put your finger on the book’s essence, i.e., whether the spirit taking over Amanda’s life may in fact simply be Amanda, who’s ridding herself of all those conventional expectations of what a perfect life should be. It’s so interesting, as you note, that Gran used the old device of demonic possession but gave it her own feminist twist! And, as you say, with dark humor (at times).
    Although she isn’t one of my very top favorites, I do love Sara Gran’s work. If you like mysteries with a hint (sometimes more) of “strange” and don’t mind a flawed protagonist, you might enjoy her Claire DeWitt series. Her novel Dope is very, very noir, so it’s very bleak but quite good. Gran’s debut, When Saturn Returns to New York, is the weakest of her books but still worth an afternoon.


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