Reviewing: Come Closer by Sara Gran

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I first came across this book in the ‘I Have Exorcised the Demons’ episode of Books in the Freezer which has lately become one of my favourite bookish podcasts (go check it out if you’re a horror fan!) and which has increased the size of my TBR pile by about 200%. I thoroughly enjoyed The Exorcist during my October horror binge and Come Closer sounded phenomenal.  

Amanda, the woman who fears she is losing control of her own mind to a demon, does not play with ouija boards or attend the local Catholic church. She doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary at all – which is why this novel is quite to unsettling. An architect in a stable – if slightly monotonous –  marriage, a good home and a decently comfortable lifestyle, she’s hardly the poster girl for possession, until one day she presents her coworker with a proposal on a project, only to be faced with a page of expletives and insults that she has no recollection of writing but that she does, secretly, believe. This novel is a creeping, insidious thing. How many of us would experience tapping in the walls and blame demons instead of pipes? How many would lose their temper at a loved one and immediately think ‘I must be possessed’? The shift in Amanda’s carefully cultivated personality is so gradual that she doesn’t notice a change until it is too late. So she’s started smoking again? Big deal, she likes smoking, it makes her happy – and when she burns her husband with a cigarette it must have been an accident, a slip of her hand. There’s no way any part of her would want to hurt him. Is there? And when she has a dream about the invisible friend she had as a child, well she’s just stressed at work, and she’s busy, and the mind does funny things. It is a comfort to hear a friend say that they love you, that they will never leave you, even if you made them up. Right?

“I choose you,” she said.

“You’ll never leave?” I asked.

“Never,” she said. “Nothing can get me out.”

As well as a novel about demons, this really is a story about what it means to control our own minds. Amanda feels increasingly trapped even as her actions are liberating her. She goes to bars because she wants to, she says things she’s always wanted to say, and she’s increasingly isolated by this freedom. Amanda reacts to changes in her mind and body the way we all would. She goes to the doctor, they say she needs more salt, her thoughts unsettle her, she makes an appointment with a psychiatrist. Amanda’s narrative is increasingly unreliable as the tale goes on. She wakes up unsure of how she got to somewhere, or knows someone’s name, she’s convinced her doctors are plotting against her to let the demon inside her mind win, and she’s beginning to struggle in telling herself apart from Naamah – the entity she invited in as a friend.

“I never made you do anything,” she said. “I only let you do what you wanted. I told you, Amanda, I can’t have fun without you.”

While Gran draws from religion in terms of Naamah’s origin – she is a demon of Jewish texts, a wife of Adam who murders children and seduces men, who takes glee in acts of violence. When Amanda seeks the help of spiritual advisors their attempts are ineffectual and often laughable. Herb water to wash herself with, visualisation and calming thoughts. She looks for books that can help only to find them burned to ashes in her fireplace, she begs for help only to hear the words turn into laughter or insults, or stopper her throat like a cork. Amanda’s desperation and fear and hopelessness climbs as her life falls apart.

“I tried to tell Edward. I tried to tell anyone who would listen. But now, I found, it was too late. I opened my mouth to speak and the wrong words came out. Edward, help me, became, Edward, pass the salt. I’m possessed turned into I’m tired.”

Come Closer is an immensely short book, but it packs a lot into its pages. A discussion of frustrated desire, mental illness and individuality alongside its demonic storyline, this book will stay with you long after you finish it. While there are moments of violence and gore, the focus is very much on this parasitic relationship between Amanda and the demons – both literal and figurative – in her head. She’s not immensely likable, relating the death of her father and stepmother in an emotionlessly flat manner even before Naamah’s grip starts to tighten, but what happens to her is so isolating and terrifying that you feel for her even as she loses her grip on herself. It is a narrative that speaks to those of us who have suffered from mental illness, of that loss of control (obviously to a smaller and less murderous extent) and Gran’s writing is definitely something I will be reading more of in future.

Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5

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