Gone Girl

January 28, 2013

GONE GIRL

gone girl

I’m very glad to see that GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn has hit the top of the crime fiction charts.  I read it last year, and thought it was exceptional.  It’s about a yuppie New York couple, Nick and Amy, whose marriage is based on mutual self-regard – they both consider themselves bright, successful, and attractive – and a reassuring story they constantly they tell themselves about how happy they are together.  However, when Nick loses his job, he and Amy move back to his home town in the mid-west to start a bar, an enterprise that’s a miserable failure.  Their finances unravel, and in the process, their lack of emotional connection – indeed, their deep dislike for each other –  is revealed.  Amy vanishes, and via numerous twists and turns, we eventually find out why.

What I found so compelling about this book is that besides creating two entirely believable, unique characters, Flynn also manages to show how they’re the product of a greedy,banal culture that undervalues compassion, loyalty, supportive communities – indeed, everything it takes to build a marriage.  Her individuals are mostly unpleasant (apart from the dowdy, dogged cops) but they never degenerate into ‘types’, because we see all too clearly how they developed into the people they are. Her portrait of the couples’ parents – on both sides –  is chilling, particularly in the way she shows how a certain kind of neglectful over-praising of children leads them to an unwarranted sense of entitlement and high self-esteem  in adult life. So, too, is her description of how a relentless focus on commodities and lifestyle – also characteristic of the eighties – produces a couple who believe that if they look like the perfect match, they must be.  Finally, Flynn’s account of the disintegrating communities of the mid-west, huddled around the outskirts of deserted shopping centres hit by the recession, sent a shiver down my spine.

This is a very bleak book, in many ways.  As such, I thought it was destined to become a cult classic rather than a bestseller.  But it’s extremely encouraging for all of us – writers and readers alike – that it’s done so well, especially with the amount of drivel that’s recently been topping the charts.

2013-01-25 15.20.04

This week, I went to the Pan Macmillan women’s fiction party.  All the authors got to wear corsages (flowers, not basques) .  It was the first time I’ve been given a flower for writing a book, and it was very nice.  (It looks a bit the worse for wear in the photo here, after a few too many proseccos and the journey home on the train.) Anyway, the publisher gave a speech in which he defined women’s fiction as being essentially about ‘relationships’ and ‘redemption’. I started thinking about this with regard to the Flynn book.  It was all about relationships, so that seemed right. As to redemption, I wasn’t so sure.

I thought more about it, and came to the conclusion that a book revealing the truth, however depressing, has a strong redemptive quality. It’s so invigorating, and such a relief from the lies we so often tell ourselves. That’s why some of my favourite novels, like Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (incredibly similar to the Flynn, transported to a different age) and Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark are cathartic.  Nobody gets transformed, nobody gets happy – but the author has taken the trouble to nail exactly how human beings are thwarted in their continuous, and sometimes entirely self-deluded, quest to do so.  In that sense, these stories are redemptive, because they make us take a long, hard look at the society we live in,and think about how it can corrupt our personal relationships, in the most insidious of ways, unless we take care not to let that happen.

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2 Responses to “Gone Girl”

  1. Tania Stanwood said

    There has been a lot of drivel lately. I find myself reading blog after blog looking for a book that looks somewhat promising. Gone girl was ok for me, better than I thought it would be. But I am a fan of Women’s Fiction but I like substance more. I have almost finished a great book, pleasantly suprised by it actually. Coming to Rosemont by Barbara HInske. Found it on her website, ended up there after someone recommended it. And I to recommend it for people like me who are looking for something more in a read. barbarahinske.com if anyone wants to take a look!

    • author said

      Thanks, Tania. I’ll definitely check out the Hinske. Re Gone Girl, I thought it had its faults, the prose wasn’t scintillating, and towards the end the plot got a bit unlikely, but I still thought it was a cut above.

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