Amanda is just your typical thirtysomething middle class semi-successful architect, married to Ed and having moved into the house of her dreams in the middle of a desolate, abandoned neighbourhood. Then begins the scratching at the walls. The voice in her head. Missing time. Dreams of blood seas. Memory lapses. Outlandish behaviour. As Amanda struggles to take control of her life, she comes across stories of demon possession and Adam’s second wife Naamah. Is she possessed, insane, or is there something more to the story? Time’s running out, and if Amanda doesn’t take control soon, she won’t have anything left.
Come Closer is Sara Gran’s 2003 short horror novel. I can’t remember how I came across this novel, but I couldn’t find this book at my library, and was interested enough in the premise that I bought it on my Kindle as soon as it was possible. One of the elements in this story is similar to my current manuscript, so I wanted to see how Sara Gran wrote it, and hoo boy, I was surprised. Being a novella, I finished Come Closer very quickly, and was surprised when I opened it up on my Kindle as to how short it was and wish it could have been longer, delved more into Amanda’s mental state and her descent into madness, but this book is almost twenty years old. What can one do?
I came into Come Closer without reading any of the genre tags on Amazon or Goodreads, and it’s labelled as a horror, but somehow I was expecting this to fall into thriller territory. As a huge horror movie fan (most of Wes Craven’s stuff, the Saw franchise, and that genre where there’s a bunch of people killed off one by one and the killer is one of them being my favourites), I don’t tend to read as much horror as I should, and while I was disappointed my thriller hypothesis didn’t end up coming true—I spent most of the book thinking she wasn’t really possessed by Naamah and Ed and some secret lover were plotting to make her mad)—I did enjoy the journey. As mentioned before, I really wish this had been longer, delved more into the relationship with Amanda and Ed, and her struggle against her own mind, and more about what made Naamah detest Ed as much as she did. I know it explains it as Amanda’s character, that she is easily susceptible, but I still wish there was more of an eternal struggle between the duo, even if it was fascinating and I kept reading about Amanda’s slow descent into insanity. I know there’s the huge reveal at the end, the end result of Amanda’s fall, but I was still surprised there wasn’t a huge twist about Ed being bad, and he really was just played straight, the innocent husband—as innocent as a husband who’s basically cheating on his wife—and that maybe there’d be a point where Ed found out, but he really is so ignorant and Naamah seems to be just so good at playing her role that he doesn’t realise what is happening until it’s too late, and the story reaches its explosive climax.
It is truly fascinating reading page after page, viewing with horrified, fascinated relish, as Amanda slowly loses her marbles, struggles to understand what is happening to her until it’s too late. Gran does a good job of showing someone like Amanda, who’s never really learnt how to deal with difficult things, falls captive to the spell of another force. It starts off small, with knocking sounds on the walls of the apartment she shares with Ed, and the appearance of a woman who looks like Pansy, her childhood imaginary friend. But then Pansy morphs, and Amanda is struggling to work out what is real and what isn’t. She’s also an unreliable narrator, part of why I expected a psychological thriller sort of big reveal, but the unreliability of both Amanda and her alter ego blurs between the genres of horror and thriller and everything in between, and it was a hell of a ride. There’s a survey in the book called Demon Possession that Amanda keeps coming back to throughout, and there’s that whole unreliable narrator bit where you’re not sure if her behaviour is changing to suit the book and the book is like inspiration to Naamah and her fractured mind, or if she was already going on this path anyway and is just acting out her wildest imaginations a la The Narrator in Fight Club. Regardless, it is a worthwhile ride.
My main concern was just how little Amanda and Ed were developed, and it felt like they were just your vague psychological thriller characters, who worked too much in their middle class jobs and kinda loved each other but it all felt very meh, and Ed was supposed to be unique, at least according to Naamah, and Gran tried to show him that way by making him a neat freak, but by way of a character, he really just wasn’t very interesting, and you’re supposed to be shocked when Amanda burns him with her cigarette and their relationship slowly disintegrates, but it’s not like there’s much of a relationship to crumble anyway because these two are just your run-of-the-mill, forgettable sort of couple. While we know why Amanda lacks much of a personality, because of her childhood, Ed is just…there.
After finishing Come Closer, I discovered there was a quote from Bret Easton Ellis at the front, and it makes sense, as i enjoyed this book and while I have so many problems with Ellis, I have this love-hate relationship with his immersive writing, and Sara Gran’s book had that similar feeling. If you know of any books that are similar to these two, please let me know, I’d love to read more like this. Part of reading and trying all these different books and genres is finding what gels with you best, and I think I’ve found a genre I’ll continue to return to.
On the first page there was a little quiz:
Are YOU Possessed by a Demon?
1. I hear strange noises in my home, especially at night, which family members tell me only occur when I am present.
2. I have new activities and pastimes that seem “out of character,” and I do things that I did not intend and do not understand.
3. I’m short and ill-tempered with my friends and loved ones.
4. I can understand languages I’ve never studied, and have the ability to know things I couldn’t know through ordinary means.
5. I have blackouts not caused by drugs, alcohol, or a pre-existing health condition.
6. I have unusual new thoughts, or hear voices in my head.
7. I’ve had visions or dreams of personalities who may be demons.
8. A psychic, minister, or other spiritualist has told me I’m possessed.
9. I have urges to hurt or kill animals and other people.
10. I have hurt or killed animals or people.
On the next page was an analysis of the quiz results. I had scored a four out of ten; there was the noise in our apartment, I had started smoking again, I had been fighting with Ed, and I had been having strange dreams.
0-3: You are probably not possessed. See a doctor or mental health professional for an evaluation.
3-6: You may be haunted, or in the early stages of possession. Seek a spiritual counselor for assistance.
6-10: You are possessed. Consult with your spiritual counselor immediately. You may be a threat to the safety of yourself and your family.
Come Closer by Sara Gran is a slow-burn possession story, but it’s worth the read. To most, the big reveal isn’t shocking, and perhaps it would have been more shocking had the characters of Amanda and Ed and how they connected was touched upon far more and they both basically didn’t just exist outside of each other, but it is the journey, the slow madness of an unreliable narrator as she slips further and further down the rabbithole of insanity, that is worth the read. This is a book I feel I would reread in the future, and Sara Gran is an author I’ve added to Authors I’d Definitely Read From Again list.