Priyankar Bhunia
Reader Review From:priyankar bhunia Bhunia, posted on 20 April at 1:45 AM
20 April at 1:45 AM

A review for Gone Girl, the source book for David Fincher's upcoming movie

Gone Girl was one of the biggest publishing sensations of 2013. It sold nearly 2 million copies and a movie adaptation is in the works, directed by David Fincher of Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac fame.

The trailer was released last week. It was also the feel-good book of 2013. I mean it literally. It is a portrayal of a relationship so twisted and manipulative, that it makes Tom and Jerry look like Sam and Frodo. Whatever problems you might be having in your relationship or marriage, rest assured, they cannot match up to Nick and Amy’s troubles.

This is my primary gripe with the book, which is otherwise, a satisfying, very well-written thriller. It undermines the ‘banality of evil’ in favour of shock value. It doesn’t really have many grey areas or characters, though it is cleverly structured and manipulates the readers’ sympathies, jerking them alternately from one side to the other. It is either black and white or white and black.

Nick and Amy are a hip, young, beautiful perfect couple living in New York. Nick, a Midwestern boy, works at a magazine writing on pop culture, as he explains to a detective, “movies, TV, music, but uh, you know, not high arts, nothing highfalutin”. Amy, born and raised in New York, writes personality quizzes. Her parents are authors of a best-selling children’s book series, called Amazing Amy, inspired by their child.

Both Nick and Amy get laid off is the post-2008 economy, where the print media is getting squeezed from all sides. They move to Carthage, Missouri, where Nick grew up, when he learns his mother has been diagnosed with leukaemia. He buys a bar together with his twin sister, using Amy’s trust fund money. After they have been living there for two years, Amy disappears from their home on the morning of their fifth anniversary. (Q: why not using past tense in this paragraph?)

The book works for the same reason why every second show on TV is a crime procedural. Because, it externalizes our demons by situating them in monsters we can feel horrified at, fling our righteous anger at and then congratulate ourselves for not being those same monsters. I suspect the author herself is aware of that.

Hence, the hyper-awareness of modern media: the rabid hunger of the 24 hour news cycle, every average Joe feeling his/ her opinion expressed in 140 characters on Twitter is preventing the universe from collapsing and the fickle courts of public opinion, swayed by one smile or a drunken rant.

There are references to the CSI effect, wherein jurors are not convinced unless they are presented with something like DNA evidence extracted from the epithelials left on a gun handle (in real life it is practically impossible to even get a fingerprint from a gun) and what Southpark dubbed ‘Informative murder porn’, the mushrooming of true-life crime shows focusing on spousal adultery and murder and how they might be affecting the police investigation and the public. When one of the detectives tried to warn Nick on the first day of the volunteer Find Amy Dunne centre, that the criminal might try to insert himself into the investigation, Nick completes the sentence for her. This is a line uttered in nearly every episode of Criminal Minds.

All this provides the backdrop for the exploration of the two central characters. In the first half of the book, we alternate between Nick’s narration of his wife’s disappearance and Amy’s diary entries from the past, dating from when they first met. Very early in the book, Gillian Flynn makes apparent her use of an unreliable narrator, when Nick admits after speaking to the cops that he just told his fifth lie, without specifying what the previous four lies were. Even without that admission, something feels off.

There is an intentional superficial veneer to both the characters. At one point Nick notes, “We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters.”

That is an intriguing aspect of this book, the self-aware artificiality of the characters. In these respects, Gone girl is very much a book of the times. Maybe, when people themselves are turning shallow, why should we expect profound characters in our literature? But then we have to keep in mind that every generation must have felt the same to a greater or lesser extent.

The first half of the book disturbed me, as it made me think of my own foibles and my marriage. There are some nice insights into a dysfunctional modern marriage, where the partners have reached a stage where they experience the same things very differently. The husband wishing that he wouldn’t have to compromise on his boys’ nights out or go to boring dinners with other couples, the wife saying it’s OK but secretly hoping the husband will read her mind and do what she wants, will baby her once in a while. Nick and Amy are one of the cool couples, having a good laugh at the other husbands kowtowing to their wives, calling them ‘dancing monkeys’. Or are they that cool?

Since Gone Girl is a mystery, there has to be a twist. During the past decade, this overwhelming trend has developed where every thriller/ whodunit on screen or in books has to shoehorn in a twist.

When the creator of a show like True Detective swears that he is not trying to trick anyone, the internet shakes its collective head in disbelief and moves on to wild speculation over possible shock endings. A twist is a crutch which has been worn down to its nubs. Flynn is confident enough of her story-telling skills to place her big twist at the mid-point of the book, which is the saving grace.

Here, it is handled carefully and Flynn knows how to keep the string taut till the last page. But it is just that, a tortuous plot, a game of staying one step ahead of the reader, of keeping them guessing. Once I got into the Rube-Goldbergian (again a phrase used in the book) mechanics of the second half, I was looking at the characters from the outside, judging them, instead of living with them.

Gone Girl is ultimately an above average thriller which manages to be an astute commentary on several aspects of modern society but doesn’t have anything truly original or profound to say. Gillian Flynn is a former television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She got laid off during the recession, just like Nick.

Therefore, her acute awareness of pop-culture and its influence is not surprising and can be a lot of fun. Here, Nick has a habit of calling a joke derivative but adding immediately, “The word derivative as a criticism itself is derivative”. It’s another wink to the readers. That could very well be the case. After all, a huge swathe of critically acclaimed modern cinema and TV is self- consciously derivative, filled with inside referential jokes and asides. But it makes the book merely a good read and not something which would leave a lasting, memorable impression.

Copyright 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn No. 198402868E. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions