If you haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s Gone girl and you intend to, you should probably skip this post. It’s not, however, going to provide a warts and all review or even an adequate synopsis but it might contain a few spoilers. Any-who the world and his wife have reviewed it: just google it.
Gillian’s (too informal?) first book ‘Sharp Objects’ was pretty lack lustre, fairly interesting premise but a really unsatisfactory conclusion, that and the fact I struggled to muster any sympathy for her main protagonist. It felt a little throw away, like a book with no soul. No depth: scratch it and it’ll go away. It must have been liked by someone though because it was nominated for awards and even Stephen King gave good copy on the front cover by proclaiming it ‘scary as fuck’, I might be paraphrasing but you get the drift. Stephen was clearly over egging the custard, odd considering this is the man whose brain gave us ‘ The Shining”. I do not believe for a nano second that ‘Sharp Objects ‘ in any way, raised Stephen’s pulse beyond trapped wind on the excitement meter. Average book at best.
The salient fact that would eventually lead me to reading ‘Gone Girl’ was that I read ‘Dark Places’ ( her second novel) first. If I’d read ‘Sharp Objects’ first, I don’t think I would have sought out any more Gillian Flynn books. But…
‘Dark Places’ is staggeringly brilliant. You can rattle off many reviewing clichés: a real page turner ( as opposed to an imaginary one), un-put-down-able, nuanced and deceptively simple. Those sound bites are vacuously impotent and the fact is the book is everything a good book is supposed to be. It was hard trying to read it fast enough, when the words blur slightly because of the sheer speed you are trying to find out what happens next. The downside is you might ever so slightly skim read in order to reach a conclusion only to find a passage that doesn’t quite make sense and have to go back and re-read a couple of pages. Gillian managed to write words that rang true, situations that although alien to me felt real. The conclusion was heart breaking and unexpected and brilliant because of it. I had so much emotional investment in her ‘truth’ that whatever the ending had been I would have been satisfied with it. I had no expectations beyond just wanting to know.
The same can’t be said for ‘Gone Girl’, although I should qualify that by saying I really enjoyed it, well almost all of it, well ok 70% of it. Narratively: the story, characters and plot were handled deftly. The premise and style were both ingeniously inclusive. I wanted to put life on hold so I could finish the bloody book. Cracks only began to appear for me when the true nature of the story was revealed far too soon, it seemed to suddenly become very soap opera in its intentions. Where as I felt sympathies for Nick, I was watching (reading) Amy becoming more Cruella Deville as the pages turned. It was, up until the last third of the book, one of the best stories I had read for quite a while.
I didn’t want it to end like that, I felt cheated. Not necessarily on how it ended but the change in tone as it ended. Characterisation had been insightful and the narratives to-ing and fro-ing was a clever platform to really demonstrate how an author can brilliantly curve ball their reader. Now I’m perfectly willing to except that its me and not the book. Clearly she is a talent who will go on to write other brilliantly plotted books, but somewhere from the diary reveal to the last page, I lost belief in what I was reading or how the events were being sold to me. In an interview Gillian was quoted as saying she wanted the book to end in a similar style to Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s baby. The understated carrying more weight. I didn’t feel it.
For 75% of the time Gone Girl is the best thing she’s written, for me though, her second book ‘ dark places’ is the one that all others should be judged against.
When a book moves you, everything stops. Clocks become meaningless. It’s C.S Lewis’ wardrobe or 1984’s footsteps down the corridor to room 101. I’ve felt my heckles raised when faced with Major Major’s stupidity in catch 22 and countless other immersive emotions. The ability to be true even in the most fantastical scenarios differentiates the throw away novels from the re-read treasures.
On a slight side note (bear with me), to my great surprise I have enjoyed Jo Nesbo’s Harry hole detective books far more than I expected to. The main protagonist has burrowed into my head in the same way Steig Larson’s Lisbeth and Ian Rankin’s Rebus had before him. I was expecting throw away and instead I feel the bones of the city of Oslo are now implanted in my false memory bank irrespective of the fact I’ve never set foot in Norway. An author’s ability to Gaffer tape their reader, throw them into the boot of the car, drive them somewhere isolated and then entirely submerge them into their world is a gift that not every writer has. My taste in books is as uselessly undefinable as my taste in music. I liked the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy but have no desire to delve any deeper into young adult fiction, until that is, a premise or an author compels me. I’m a walking contradiction that sadly doesn’t seem to fit any proper demographic. My shelves are filled with books that cross all genres, the only uniting theme seems to be the writer’s ability to grab me. Writers who inspire me are as diverse as Orwell, Tart, Welsh, Dawkins, Matheson, Golding, Bourdain, Heller, Lermontov and Adams. (Both Richard and Douglas.)
I believe that Gillian Flynn will eventually write a book that will sit alongside my favourites with ease and confidence. ‘Dark Places’ was very nearly that book.
Gone Girl is clever: in its conception, plotting and language, yet managed to slip into melodrama in its final act. If I believe the words I’m reading I will accept anything the writer tells me, from the best way to interview a vampire to the geography of the hundred acre wood. If I don’t, the story slips into being a soap opera or worse. Where the sets always look like sets no matter how well-meaning the performance and the audience is always aware that they are just the audience.
By the end of ‘Gone Girl’ I felt I was being told a story and was no longer immersed in the world of Amy and Nick Dunne.
I was just the audience.