Despite my high-blown literary pretensions I will from time to time put down the Proust and the Dostoyevski and read a trashy page-turner, usually after a series of what I hoped would be classic, classy reads reveal themselves to be a pile of tush.
So after starting and abandoning Stendahl’s The Charterhouse of Parma and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, I felt in need of light relief.
The Stendahl is in the Penguin Classic series but it turned out to be yet another completely unfunny ‘comic’ novel, just an old one. These things seem to follow me around. As for The Luminaries, I got what I deserved from a Booker Prize winner. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know.
I wasn’t expecting much from Gone Girl, although I would have to admit it is Shakespeare compared with Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, which I mistakenly read first.
I knew what I was signing up for. Tricks to keep you reading such as every chapter ending on a cliff-hanger and a light and readable style that could be mistaken for shallowness. Characters that aren’t alive but are stereotypes there as a representation of the social or political point the author is trying to make. Or, even worse, characters who behave as they do because that’s what the author, and her plot, requires of them.
Indeed, that is the difference between a good and bad book: in a good one the characters’ actions are not only possible, but inevitable. In a bad book, they do what they’re told in order to get to the conclusion the author had planned in advance.
After finishing Gone Girl, I had a snoop around on Goodreads and the internet, I suppose as an alternative to having a discussion with a human being about a book we had both read.
I found my way to a review by a Candlefox, who said if she had not borrowed the book, she would have ‘stabbed the shit out of it with scissors’. Which is the best review I have seen since the film This is Spinal Tap, whose album Shark Sandwich received a two-word review: ‘Shit sandwich.’
Perhaps I just like reviews with the word ‘shit’ in them.
A bit excessive, as it’s not that bad, but I like the sentiment. I had just finished the book with the lazy thought that even though it was cack, it wasn’t as bad as it may have been.
So I had another think.
By the way, I don’t suppose anyone who has got this far is worried about spoilers, but some are coming.
In a moment, anyway. Spoilers, what’s that all about? If knowing the plot in advance ruins your enjoyment of book, can it really be any good?
Samuel Beckett was once asked what one of his plays was about, and he replied that if he had been able to express his ideas any other way, he would have done that.
Perhaps a bit unfair to compare Beckett with Gillian Flynn, as the only thing their writing has in common is that they use the same letters of the alphabet. Although hardly even that, given that Beckett wrote a lot of his plays in French and then translated them into English. He had a smaller vocabulary in French, and wanted the language to be sparse.
The point being a book should be about much more than the plot, so who cares about spoilers?
Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes. Gone Girl. One of the two main characters, Amy, turns out to be controlling, demanding, vengeful, and all sorts of nasty stuff to the level of evil craziness. She comes up with a very detailed and long-planned scheme to take vengeance on her husband, who had an affair, and wasn’t up to her high standards anyway. She’d done similar things earlier in her life.
Her parents are big characters in the book. Don’t you think they would have noticed? They’ve watched this girl from the moment she was born, and never once did she reveal, not even as a three-year-old, that she went a bit over the top if her boiled egg was a little too runny?
Gone Girl is built on sand and it’s towards the end that the inevitable collapse happens. After faking her own murder, and hiding out (as you do) she is robbed of all her money by some white trailer park trash, handicapped as they are by being stereotypes, and their refusal to do anything but advance the plot as demanded by the author.
She flees to an old boyfriend, one she has taken revenge on in the past, and he not only forgives her, but just happens to have an isolated summer house where she can live and no one will ever know where she is. That was handy, wasn’t it?
She escapes from there, killing him for good measure, in such a way the police, with all their forensic science and all the rest of it, can’t hang on her because Gillian Flynn has told them not to.
And this is the bit that got me: she goes home and throws herself in the arms of the husband, who has by now worked out what a demon she is. She suggests they go home together. Now call me a spoilsport, but if that was me, I wouldn’t have gone home with her. In fact, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be alone with her for one second.
Even if she doesn’t kill me, she’s going to do something. Flynn seems to have spotted this flaw in her plot, so she gets a couple of other characters to point this out to the husband. As if that deals with it.
You can almost imagine the discussion between the character, Nick, and Gillian Flynn.
Nick: I really don’t want to be alone with this woman. She has tried to frame me for her murder, and murdered another man. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.
Gillian Flynn: Do as you’re told.
GF: What is this? You’re not here to think for yourself. I have a plan that involves reviewers talking about the zeitgeist. And other things you couldn’t possibly understand.
Nick: She’ll kill me.
GF: That sounds like a sequel!
Overall, I feel a bit depressed. Gone Girl has sold millions of copes, been made into a film, and lots of people think it’s brilliant.
It’s not. However, it does use the literary device of a unreliable narrator very well, and I suppose some people will be impressed with its up to date take on how the internet has changed the world, and what it says about relationships.
You couldn’t possibly take to any of the characters. Not because they are evil, but because they just aren’t real.
I didn’t borrow my copy of Gone Girl, so I could stab the shit out of it with scissors, but it would make one hell of a mess of my Kindle.
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