A Brief Break From Sports Books.

As mentioned when I started this blog, there would be a few surprises and this is one. Our ‘Snap Reviews’ are reviews of books that are not sports books. Any diet can be overloaded with one food type, and by default will become tedious and unhealthy; the same is true of book tastes. To take healthy breaks and to read outside of sport is just as important to keep the mind fresh and the reading senses stimulated. And so we present to you, dear reader, our take on Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, ‘Gone Girl’.

I’m happy to admit I borrowed a copy of Gone Girl with the intention of reading this international phenomenon to see ‘What All The Fuss Is About’. In the past twelve months I’ve got married, been on a honeymoon, and had a baby, and I was given somewhat forthright warnings to …well… to not read it. The theory was that I had undergone to many seismic life shifts to read this book without being affected by its undercurrents. Fearful looks and whispered ‘dark themes’ met any inquiry I made after the paperback, but I decided enough was enough; I’m a big girl, and surely a book that has become so popular en masse can’t be THAT scary? It’s a supermarket favourite and I fail to see how anything with the potential to psychologically disturb would sit at the foot of the Fresh Fruit and Veg aisle with such ease, for so long, in my local Tesco.

For those of you who haven’t read it (we were in the minority and indeed, I’m afraid I’ve left your ranks to join ‘those who have’), Gone Girl is a basic mystery tale that asks how Amy, Nick’s wife, goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, and if Nick killed her or not. Told from the perspective of husband and wife, in an interchanging narrative, a picture emerges of a deeply complex marriage, a range of motivations and emotions, and (according to its cover blurb) poses a central question; Can you ever really know the person you’re in love with?

Cheery, no?

From its opening scene, Gone Girl is sufficiently addictive. I wanted to know more, I wanted to get to the next chapter, I found it hard to put down. In that respect, I’d describe this book as Literary Nicotine; bizarrely compulsive, an immersive escape from the day to day, and not necessarily good for you.

Gone Girl; a bit like literary nicotine.

Flynn’s writing is excellent, and has a celluloid quality. She brings alive the drib town of Hannibal, Missouri, to which Nick has moved with his native New Yorker wife. As the credit crunch has hit America, parts of Missouri are abandoned monuments to the ‘jingle mail’ concept, where those that could no longer afford their mortgages just upped and left, posting their keys through the doors of real estate brokers. Entire swathes of midwest America stand abandoned, as former Manhattanite Amy seeks to form a new life for herself as a Red State Wife. This struggle and desolation are captured superbly by Flynn, and as she uses flashbacks to an altogether more glamorous life in NYC, the painted picture is a contrasting one of rich and desolate tones.

We’re kept guessing in a zingy opening sequence, with the only plot spoiler being the number of pages left. (It seemed rather obvious to me that there was much more going on than a basic ‘He Killed Her’ novel, as we still had a good three hundred-odd pages to read.) Clearly, Flynn has done her homework and has architected the near perfect crime novel. Yes the ideas are dark and they are terrifying; they put those arguments about the washing up and the arrangement of iTunes (CURSE YOU SHARED ICLOUD! CURSE YOU!) into stark relief and indeed, make you appreciate the fact that though you can be a bit annoying sometimes, your husband probably isn’t going to strangle you. But therein lies the minor dilemma for me. Does this book truly drag out the inner workings of a marriage? I’m not sure. The book touches on the idea of marriage walking a fine line between love and toxicity, but in a superficial way. That’s not a bad thing as such, but it is something that to me, holds Flynn back from claiming literary status, and instead pins her to a commercial one.

Stylistically, this book is refreshing. From diaries, to first person, to conversations that hugely show rather than tell us, about our characters, the prose is clean and all the more easy to consume in vast sittings (chain smoking, if you will.) – But enough from me, let’s have a quick look at Gone Girl through the lens of our criteria (outlined in our first ever post).

Is it a book packed with controversy? For us, mildly. Yes it brings up interesting ideas which have proved obviously popular with a huge number of readers (and celebrities; Sarah Jessica Parker was spotted outside Balthazar in New York clutching Gone Girl, after all…), and that is in itself intriguing. Do many married couples have the same ‘double lives’ as Nick and Amy? Are deeply in love couples ‘addicted’ to one another, no matter how unhealthy that addiction may be? Equally, if Gone Girl rears its head at dinner parties, is the book prompting a deeper conversation about conjugal relationships than we’ve had before? So controversy, perhaps, but a game changer, not sure.

Is this a ‘great’ book? Well, for me, not in the purest sense. I’m glad I’ve read it, I enjoyed it, I can see what the big deal is, but in ten years time, I’m not going to talk about re-reading Gone Girl because it’s been a bereft decade since I first encountered it. With that said though, I can see myself using Gone Girl as a mini benchmark, or comparing books of a similar feel, to it in the future.

Is it an important book? I paused before answering this one. I’m going to say no, but only because Flynn’s novel comes in an age of evolved models of marriage and partnership. Perhaps thirty years ago, in a time where marriage was a truly closed unit that one didn’t discuss outside of the family home, Gone Girl would have been a highly provocative, semi-feminist text. As it stands though, in an age of openness, counselling, and a society here in Britain where one does talk about marriage issues with friends or relatives, Gone Girl sits more as a good novel than an important book.

Does it have the entertainment factor? Oh yes, absolutely. This book keeps you guessing and will have you shifting so quickly to the edge of your seat, you’ll barely notice when you fall off.

Is it a book with a legacy? The jury’s out here. Time will tell if Flynn can plunge the darker deeper recesses of humanity to write more books that may cement her legacy. She runs the risk of being the author that did ‘that’ book about the psycho wife, but with the right editor and the right idea, she may become a solid staple of beach reads and a guaranteed enjoyable novel. I am told that her prior books are very good, and have an emphasis upon the dark side of humanity, so we will watch with interest as her legacy evolves.

Does the book have notable and memorable characters? To me, the problem with a book such as Gone Girl, that invites the reader to sign up to a team, is that you have to make one or the other likeable. I didn’t want to be on the side of either of these two characters, upon the basis that I have enough nut cases in my real life to deal with, to be subscribing to fictitious individuals with issues. In many respects, I wanted them to form a little mad team of their own and run off into a mad sunset and relish a life of madness together. I found the lead detectives lacking, but I did like Nick’s twin sister Margot, and the conjuring of general Midwestern community types (prowling flirty women, hobos camped out in the abandoned Mall, and two isolated drifters in a St Louis cash-only hostel), which Flynn composed with vivid delicacy.

Ergo, for our snap review, we award Gone Girl a highly respectable and solid 8 / 10. An excellent read, wholly recommended with plenty of intrigue and pace. Not a game changer per se, but absolutely not a waste of reading time either. Enjoy!

A li’l quote from Gone Girl. I mean, it’s one reaction to having to pick up dirty socks.

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