Saturday, May 25, 2013
Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Here's my review.
This was quite an interesting read, despite being different from what I usually read. In the end, a lot of fiction is related. After all, this story could easily have taken place in a fantasy or science fiction setting; in the end it's only characters acting out their parts in whatever setting they are placed in. Although at times I hated the characters, they were engaging and kept me drawn to the story. It's a mystery, with several plot twists along the way. You can see the twists coming, but exactly what happens is unexpected.
The story follows what appears to be a murder mystery, when the wife, Amy, disappears on their wedding anniversary. The first obvious suspect is the husband, Nick, and the story feels like a bit of a police procedural with the guy trying to defend himself. One very interesting aspect of the novel is the use of the unreliable narrator. This is a story-telling device wherein the narrator controls the story, but we are only getting his/her version, which may not be the truth. The obviousness of this is evident at the end of one of the first few chapters, where we catch Nick telling a lie to the cops. The narrator (Nick), then drops a bombshell revealing that is the fifth such lie he's said; we the readers just haven't been able to catch the other four!
The story progresses in alternating points of view: Nick in the present and Amy in her diary. Despite the different times in which each point of view takes place, we can see a clear difference in what each person perceives. This further drives our perception of these narrators as unreliable. We, as well as the non-viewpoint characters, wonder: what really happened here? The ending is, unfortunately, a bit unsatisfying in the sense that while it is clever, it is not what we wanted.
One thing that bothered me was a small thing one of the cops says about coffee at the house. I felt it was leading on to something, but I think in the end it was a mistake or oversight by the author. Later on, the characters are enjoying coffee in their home or the diary has some mention about it and I'm like "The Coffee! Where did they get that?!", but it never becomes an issue. Either the cop was lying, which does seem unlikely since she was playing her cards, or the author messed up. It's no big deal, I don't expect authors to be perfect, but it was a curious oversight. I would generally not notice, but given the type of novel I was overly sensitive to any detail.
This novel depends heavily on its two main characters: Nick and Amy Dunne. As I've mentioned before, the story is told with an unreliable narrator and this colors our perception of the characters. We get a very strong initial impression that Nick is a jerk and fully responsible for Amy's disappearance. From the get-go, we get a feeling something is wrong with him and we feel justified in blaming him. At the same time, however, as we read the parts with Amy's diary something didn't seem right there either. It felt she was trying hard (too hard) to convince herself that she was happy. Once we reach the halfway point, we reach a big reveal and the characters, especially Amy, come into focus.
The characters are believable, motivated, and completely messed up. Unfortunately, they are also very much relatable. Hence, as we read the novel we can't help but wonder: would I be like that? Are any of my friends like that? It's a chilling thought and it feels like just what the author was aiming for. The story thrives on that creepiness factor.
We like to think we are always good people, but we all have our demons. The ability to do both good and evil is in all of us, but it's our choices that define us and set us apart from horribly messed up characters like those in the novel.
Setting / World Building
This book is set in the real world. There is no magic or fantasy or science fiction anywhere in it. These, however, are the things I look for in books which is why I would never have considered this book outside a book club. Regardless, setting does exist in this novel, as in any other, and I feel it plays a subtle role.
At the beginning of Nick and Amy's story, they are in New York City and everything is perfect. Once they move back to a small town in Missouri, things really start to fall apart. I can't help but notice the interesting parallels there. New York is the Big City, the rich and glamorous land of opportunities. Missouri is the Small Town, hit hard by the Recession. It is a harsh place that makes you look into yourself and discover who you really are inside. I'm not saying that these are accurate portrayals of either place; I for one have never lived in either and have only visited New York briefly. It could easily have been reversed. Nevertheless, the setting is there as a backdrop to all the action and feels like a subtle influence on the story and it's characters. There is plenty of mention by both characters of their hopes to return to New York and the happy life they had there.
This was quite a good read. It was very suspenseful at times and kept me drawn to the story. The characters are engaging, but horrible. Parts of the story make you loose hope in humanity when you see how the characters are behaving. The author makes you feel creeped out and start to look suspiciously at those around you, and at yourself. That's not very fun at all, but it keeps you glued to find out if/how the characters redeem themselves. In the end, the twisted and creepy aspect means I probably wont be readily recommending the book unless that's really your sort of thing.