Jason's Reviews > Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
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's review
Jan 21, 15

bookshelves: 2010s-favorites, grb-t100-rated-not-gra, 2010s-t50-21stc-t200
Recommended to Jason by: Amazon, EW, NYT, Indiebound

So when you read the product description, you can already tell that there are only 3 options: he’s responsible for her disappearance, a third party’s responsible, or she’s responsible. Or a combination of the above. So it wasn’t like the fact of the culprit’s identity would be mind-blowing. But the rest of the crime is – the whole shebang about motive, means, and opportunity. The way everything turns out to have unfolded is incredibly well-crafted; all those boasts I’ve seen about this book being the ticket to Flynn being a literary superstar, the book being this week’s top novel on Amazon that lacks the advantage of being part of a media franchise/series, Time magazine’s writer putting this in the T10 books of the year…all deserved.

The writing…I don’t like to say swooning, because it sounds like I am mooning over the twu wuv of, say, terrible Twilight. But it’s not quite enough to say that the book captivated me. A book can be a captivating, very effective page-turner, yet still not be strikingly written – it’s why Dan Brown is so huge (though that huge-ness helped make his last book the only one that failed this test because he was too busy not offending people that he forgot to be entertaining), or Suzanne Collins. Collins creates obvious characters in a conveniently sketchy world in which the vital action increasingly occurs off-page so that we get to continue following along with an often-useless protagonist who for all the talk for being an action heroine doesn’t get her hands dirty enough to deserve that moniker. But, yes, I kept turning and turning the pages until I was done.

In the case of Gone Girl, I realized I didn’t have the option of racing through to see the next plot turning, because it is so well-written that I would miss details that actually do matter to the story and aren’t used as a bludgeon to be drilled into our heads such that we at any turn Know What the Author’s Point Is. And there would often be quotes phrased just so well that I would jot them down, ponder whether to analyze them before deciding to save them for later so I could get on with the rollicking story, and consider purloining them for my own use to make myself look like the clever Cool Guy in conversations. Obviously the process would be faster than the description makes it sound, or else I’d still be hundreds of pages away from finishing the book.

But just as an example: there’s a really interesting quote in the book that I’d already read from some review, that at the time seemed flowery and indulgent: “Over just a few years, the old Amy, the girl of the big laugh and the easy ways, literally shed herself, a pile of skin and soul on the floor, and out stepped this new, brittle, bitter Amy.” But the context when Nick says this makes the words actually completely fitting, and I really like how Flynn uses devices to get her point across – the parallelism of the big laugh and the easy ways, with big/laugh and easy/ways ending with a same letter but plus one, just the way that brittle/bitter does. And the cadence of the sets of words fit perfectly with the tone Flynn is going for; the former easily rolls off the tongue, while the b-beginnings and double-t’s sound very harsh. Later, when we know the whole story, the quote takes on more layers, and it becomes even more abundantly clear how brilliant Flynn is.

I’ll try to get into the book less vaguely now to detail the hows of that awesome, which is difficult because given the genre it’s hard to avoid spoilers. Though the table of contents gives a lot away. The characters…achingly real. I found myself identifying with both Nick and Amy, both the people they try to be and the people they really are slash have become. They’re arguably four different characters, and Flynn does an astounding job giving them distinct voices; they all sound the way they’re supposed to sound, which is really difficult for a book to do. Even some books I greatly admire have alternating perspectives that sound depressingly similar and/or are highly divergent in terms of how interesting they are. It might sound weird that two similarly-voiced perspectives could so vary in quality, but it’s usually due to the author wanting to make it obvious who we’re supposed to like, or both the female and the male may sound like, for example, a female but the female perspective would logically sound less forced. Flynn really likes to spin things around and around so we don’t really know whose perspective is valid, who deserves to have sympathy and liking.

At first it seems like she’s doing the obvious author trick of making us like both of them, making them seem like obvious literary creations. But there are very good reasons for why she does this, reasons that have to do with who these characters are, their ability to present to their world a face that is similar enough to them that they are believed. Our being able to see that this face (these faces?) isn’t who they are gives us the confidence that the face we get is then who they Really are. Because that’s usually how it works in popular entertainment, and so we like to think that’s how we are – there’s this brave face we show people, but who we really are is pretty kickass and we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that anyone who doesn’t like the real us obviously doesn’t matter as the failing lies within them.

Flynn explores deeper – as Amy and Nick become more complex, the less it becomes about who to root for than about which one is more antiheroic. More like, well, people, people whose dialogue always feels like something actual people would say, and the times that the dialogue seems stilted/taken from the media make total sense because the characters are trying to live up to what the media says we should be and they more than once directly refer to our generation’s tendency to do this. The pair never stops being fascinating, and the earlier stuff in the book when they seem simpler serves not only as a counterpoint but gives a good idea of the layers they put on to hide parts of themselves, making them even more complex. This is one of those books in which (almost) nary a chapter is wasted – everything builds on what came before and what comes after in such a way that you just know that the only way to pick up on everything is to reread this crazy amazing novel.

I seem to be going on for awhile, so perhaps I shall back to this review after I do that so all the things I have left to say will be more properly informed. But I think it’s safe to say this is my favorite book out this year, and I’m grateful especially to the folks at Amazon who love this book (both the editors and customers) which coupled with giving me the excerpt totally convinced me that I had to read the rest of it. Perhaps I shall try reading her first two novels before giving this a second go, though the reviews make me take pause as they seem to be less psychological crime/mystery “thriller” (I can’t think of a proper way to show that the book isn’t scary, but it is harrowing, so thriller in quotes it is.) and more about graphically violent crimes that are very hard to stomach even for genre aficionados. I guess I could do the equivalent of covering my eyes during an onscreen gory scene by skimming quickly/skipping passages?
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Reading Progress

06/03/2012 "Top 10 on Amazon! Pretty amazing, given that there are 4 Twilight Abusive S&M Fanfics and 3 Hunger Games there."

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