Gone Girl ~ My Two Cents (or Am I All Alone on this I-didn’t-like-Gone-Girl Island?) (Oct. 2014)
Let me preface this by saying that I read Flynn’s two previous novels Sharp Objects (2006) and Dark Places (2009) almost back-to-back in 2009 and loved them both. Sharp Objects edged into the lead, but by a very small margin. What I’m saying is I adored Flynn’s style and prose. I found her subject matter dark and disturbing (the first novel deals with parental abuse and self-harm while the second concerns horrific family trauma), but she dealt with these topics and portrayed her protagonists in a very real, humane, and sensitive way. She didn’t pity them or weaken them by virtue of their experiences, nor were they portrayed as falsely heroic. They were real people dealing with real, horrific issues.
…. Which brings me to Gone Girl.
Despite how much I loved the previous two novels, I didn’t rush out to read her third book. This might have been because of the time that had elapsed and she sort of fell off my radar, I might have been busy with other things and books – the point is that I didn’t immediately read it.
And then, it blew up into this huge bestseller, and this might be a flaw in me, but I tend to avoid huge bestsellers, and if I do read them, it tends to be because the movie is coming out and I want to read the book before I see the film (this is so I can be properly enraged at the movie adaptation :p).
That’s not what happened here. I finally read Gone Girl last May, and I wasn’t aware that a film had been made. I just figured, ‘Hey, I loved her first two books, I’ll probably love this one.’
…. I didn’t…. (NO SPOILERS HERE)
The book started off strong for me, every bit the page turner everyone said it was. I was happy with Nick’s narrative, I wasn’t sold on Amy’s, but I pushed on. I thought the narrative style was interesting at first, but it began to aggravate me about halfway through. I was not nearly as impressed with the so-called plot twists as other people were; if not the actual end, then the revelation of the truth seemed obvious to me about three-quarters or so through the book. I couldn’t stand Amy at all, and I was only slightly more accepting of Nick.
There was something contrived about the whole book and Flynn’s treatment of the subject matter and her characters. Neither Nick nor Amy rang true to me. After finishing the book I felt that there was an over-reliance on the narrative structure to do the work for her.
A successful book, to my mind, can have a gripping story along with an interesting narrative style, but there is something manipulative (to me) when the narrative style is what keeps you turning the page instead of the actual plot. I felt the same sort of contrivance at work in The Night Circus and not only does it distract from the story, I feel it cheapens the whole experience for me. If your story is strong enough, it shouldn’t need to rely on a convoluted structure to keep the reader engaged.
Don’t take that the wrong way.
I’m not dissing novel narrative techniques. I love quirky and bizarre narratives. But not at the expense of plot and characterization.
Case in point,
I’m currently reading The Book Thief (avoided for so long for the reason stated above) and while I initially thought the narrative style was interesting and engaging, it has started to annoy me a bit. I’m not fussed though because the underlying story and characters are strong and deep and real.
Character is plot. Those are the two pillars which make a book stick in your head for years and years, no matter how plain, quirky, or novel the narrative structure.
What do you think?