Monday, October 27, 2014

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Dark Places

Some of you might remember I had some gripes about Gillian Flynn's bestselling chick noir novel Gone Girl (here's my short review, I wrote a more detailed review in Finnish). I liked Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, more, and it's out in Finnish in a good translation. It's darker and more believable and the seedy and unpleasant atmosphere is very well realized. The plot unravels slowly, Flynn knows how to make the reader turn pages without reverting to easy gimmicks. 

I ran into a good review of Gone Girl at the Rara-Avis e-mail list, written by Mark Nevins. I asked for Mark's permission to publish the review here and he complied. I think he is pretty spot on on some of the weaknesses of the novel. So, here goes. 

Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL (2012) 

While I'm probably the last person in American to have finally gotten around to reading GONE GIRL, I'll still try to avoid spoilers in this review--which will be hard to do, so consider stopping reading now if you're planning to pick up this novel any time soon.

Gillian Flynn has written an incredibly clever novel in GONE GIRL, and it's worth reading the book just to see how she creates a complicated and layered narrative puzzle, somewhat along the lines of THE USUAL SUSPECTS or THE SIXTH SENSE. Nothing is what it seems in the "perfect" marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, and the reader is forced to try to make sense of how the pieces of the story fit together via Nick and Amy's alternating first-person chapters, made more difficult by the fact that each of them has multiple "personas" as well.

Most readers seem to think GONE GIRL gets better after the "reveal" in the middle. While I saw the reveal coming, I nevertheless felt the second part of the novel was weaker than I would have hoped, given the fantastic set-up. When Flynn has to shift from narrative cleverness (and her construction of the narrative and all of its many moving parts is very very clever indeed) to real psychological depth, she comes up a bit short. While the first half of the novel promises something truly new, the resolution feels a little too much like the standard mass market thriller, including stock characters such as the creepy doting rich lover and the powerhouse slick attorney.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that I found neither of the two main characters in any way sympathetic: other writers working in the "doomed noir" space (e.g., the obvious candidate, James M. Cain) somehow make us root for bad people to succeed. My other big problem is that the overall tone of the book's prose is a bit too "chick lit" for me. GONE GIRL flirts with postmodern structure and unreliable narrators in ways reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Vladimir Nabokov, and it dances with dirty, twisted characters similar to those you might find in books by Charles Willeford or Jim Thompson, and yet the result is a book that falls somewhere in the comfortable middle, also known as the top of the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list for fiction. (Which may have been the author's objective after all, and who am I to quibble with that?)

I would in the end genuinely recommend GONE GIRL--if only because it's such a phenomenon, and a clever construction--but I think readers well-versed in the classics of noir are likely to find it a little "lite." (On another note, I will be intrigued to see how the book will be adapted to film, since what makes the book so interesting can really only be achieved on the printed page.)


Unknown said...

I was very happy to discover this author. This book is one that you want to keep reading. It does not drag on. BUT I was disappointed with the ending. It leaves it up to reader to imagine the ending.

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Marlene Detierro said...

This novel isn't going to appeal to everyone, but for those of us who appreciate a profanity laden, smart, well-written, cleverly plotted, dark, nasty suspense novel that manages to entertain as well provide social commentary on relationships and the roles we play it doesn't get much better than this.

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