Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: A Compelling But Stupid Novel About Stupid And Crazy People Doing Stupid And Crazy Things

Nick and Amy Dunne seemingly have a great marriage. Two young people in love with another - what else is there? But then on their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing, and, as the investigation into their lives begins, it turns out their marriage was a long way from perfect, and Nick is suspected of foul play. But what really happened - is Amy dead and Nick a killer… or is something else happening here? 

Are you curious about reading Gone Girl? Don’t read any further. In fact, don’t read any reviews of Gone Girl if you’re planning on reading it - read the synopsis and then back off, because the less you know about this book going in, the more you will get out of it. Preferably go in completely cold and let Gillian Flynn’s tricks and surprises work to their full effect on you because they are effective if you don’t know they’re coming. 

So unless you’ve already read this or have no interest in reading it, or maybe you’re part of that rare breed of reader who doesn’t mind spoilers (bless you), carry on. 

Ok, spoilers ahead everyone, because I can’t talk about this book without giving away big reveals. 

Let’s address the biggest issue with this book: the characters. Because while it’s a heavily plot-driven story, the characters are the plot in a weird way, so talking about Gone Girl is a bit of an anomaly. Normally I’d say that it doesn’t matter whether a character is likeable or unlikeable but only realism matters - did the characters seem real to you? – which determines the quality of the writing, but because of the first person narrative and alternating voices of Nick and Amy, we get the plot from the characters so the two are intricately tied together like symbiotes. If the characters behaved realistically - which they don’t - Gone Girl’s plot wouldn’t work. Hell, the book wouldn’t even exist! But they remain poorly written, contrived husks to carry the story rather than actual characters.

While there are no dragons or orcs, this book is pure fantasy. We’re supposed to believe that a woman like Amy exists or could exist? Someone whose entire life was a performance and that she fooled literally everyone - her husband, her doting parents for gods’ sake! - besides a couple of people she revealed her true nature to? No, I’m not buying it. Nobody could live like she did, wearing masks and toying with people forever, without someone figuring out she was a sociopath and/or faking it; the two people who do only find it out because Amy tells them. It’s so stupid! 

And even though she’s set up as this criminal mastermind genius who literally gets away with murder, we’re supposed to believe she fooled everyone? Not just small town cops but federal agents and detectives? And that the ridiculously elaborate treasure hunt that implicated her husband as her “killer” with evidence that was so damning, could be waived away so easily and everyone just walk away believing her bizarre explanations? If the evidence itself could have potentially sent Nick to prison - even without Amy’s dead body - then there’s no way she could just wave her hands and make everyone believe otherwise. How is everyone taken in by this woman - is everyone blind and stupid? 

Nick is no better even though he’s innocent of murder. He’s deliberately coy with the reader, which is fine, but why is he this way with the police who believe he murdered his wife before dumping her body in the Mississippi river? Because he didn’t want them to know he’d been having an affair with a younger woman! Yeah, that’s much worse than MURDERING YOUR WIFE, YOU TOTAL IDIOT! But it needs to be this way to sustain the rather mundane first half of the book - if Nick came right out with his secret, there’d be no suspense driving the book to the big halfway reveal. This is why it’s problematic to make the characters the plot. Contrived much? 

And why would he hire Tanner Bolt, the Johnny Cochrane-esque lawyer in this world? He was innocent, he knew he was innocent, there was no body, and he had an alibi. Plus, seeing how easily Amy managed to convince police differently about the evidence, it probably wouldn’t have held up at trial. Hiring Bolt just made him look super guilty AND Bolt did nothing. Think about what happened from when he was hired to the end of the book - did he do anything? He talked for Nick to the police, telling them that he (Nick) believed his psycho wife was framing him (which she was), but any lawyer could’ve read lines. He’s “Tanner Bolt - the guy who swoops in and saves the guilty” and he did nothing at all for Nick. Bolt is a pointless character for a supremely dumb - but written so very deliberately by Flynn – “character”. 

But let’s give Flynn some credit - it is a compelling story and I did read all 463 pages of it. It keeps you guessing and, while you can feel that the first part of the book is building towards a big reveal, you don’t know what that is until you read the first page of part two. I never anticipated that and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with that twist, so it’s original in that regard, and the many twists and turns the story took were unexpected and did keep me reading. 

However it’s definitely overlong by at least a third partly because, despite the reveal at the beginning of the second part, precious little happens in the second part and a lot of that stuff in the Ozarks could’ve been cut. Nick does next to nothing either besides hire Tanner Bolt who turned out to be a waste of time anyway. 

And I did like the ending, which seems to be something a lot of people are mentioning as bad and/or unsatisfactory. No - it was different and it was more memorable and effective than a predictable “bad guy loses/is punished” ending. Flynn challenged the reader with her ending to make them think about what it meant and did the unexpected - good stuff. 

That said, I’ve still got to get back to the “I can’t believe she got away with it!!!” angle. I just never bought the whole “Nick wanted to be a dad really bad” angle and the whole book becomes dependent on it. Gah… And think about how insane the whole setup was for someone as crazy as Amy to have gotten away with it: she wanted to punish Nick for cheating on her, so bad, that she was willing to have the state execute him and then kill herself! That’s taking the “woman scorned” saying to the Nth degree! 

And the motivation just baffles me. She wanted to make Nick so docile so they could continue a loveless and farcical marriage – and then introduce the responsibility of another life to look after? Whaaat?! This is another reason why I don’t buy Amy as a real character – who the hell would want that? I know Amy comes across as a sociopath (and she probably is) but I don’t want to write it all off as mental illness, that’d be too easy. I mean, she’s proven that she’ll go the distance for the most petty of things so maybe having a kid and using that kid as a weapon against Nick FOR HAVING AN AFFAIR is like her “character”, but is that something a sociopath would do? Are they that determined? Or maybe it is that easy – she is just a sociopath? I’m not psychologist so I can’t say whether this is symptomatic of sociopathic behaviour but it seems like a really long way to go. 

So it’s not a perfect novel. Flynn’s writing isn’t particularly incredible but it’s also not shoddy - it does what it needs to, much like the novel itself, which is a bumpy ride but I did for the most part enjoy the journey, though as you can see I had some reservations after finishing it that I had to vent! I wish it was shorter but I’m glad I read it. Flynn tells an original, though often unbelievable, story that didn’t grip me the whole way but gave me enough to keep me going until the final page. 

Because of the many problems with the book, I don’t want to give it four stars but it’s not a three star read either - 3.5 stars. But be prepared to suspend your disbelief far more than you’d have to compared to reading, say, George R R Martin - and his books are pure fantasy!

Gone Girl

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