Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: More like playing a game than reading

Gone GirlGone Girl is clever, maybe too clever.

The point of view characters are smart – smart ironic, rather than emotionally intelligent. The plot contains lots of twists and turns, most of which I foresaw, apart from those toward the end. By then the narrative had stretched so far into incredulity as it struggled to conform to the demands of the plot – rather than illuminating the lives of the characters – I was no longer engaged emotionally. But I was curious to see how it would wind up.

It’s compelling to read and I’m on record as saying I enjoy this kind of book. In its favour, it has a lot to say about gender politics, the impact of popular culture on the way we think of ourselves and others, the roles we play and how we seek to manage others’ perceptions of us. But its self-conscious irony is wearing: like the characters, Flynn appears to enjoy being self-consciously derivative. Derivative of derivative of derivative which is so post- postmodern. Or passe?

Mostly, it’s not an honest book. It reminds me more of playing a game than reading. Fun in a “can’t take my eyes off the accident as we pass” kind of way. It doesn’t make me want to rush out and read more of Flynn’s work, but when I’m in the mood for another suspense or thriller I just may.

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting. I put it on my list because I saw Bret Easton Ellis was impressed by it (he said: Reading: I broke down and started “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. 155 pages in so far. Got to the first big reveal: amused and impressed…) I know BEE is probably not the most stable of recommenders but I was curious to read a book that he found amusing and impressive I suppose. I read recently too that he called Freedom and The Corrections the best novels to come out of his generation of writers (paraphrasing here!)

    Your review makes me curiouser and curiouser, Elizabeth so I think I’ll move it up a few notches.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Jenny. I’ll be interested to know what you think. I can see why BEE said what he said: there are many “in” jokes about the culture he no doubt knows well – which Flynn considerately explains for the non-insider. It must provide a shock of recognition, especially for those who are so confidently “in” they don’t mind laughing at themselves – with a self-conscious sense of irony at their own tendency to stage-manage their laughter, of course… Having said that, there’s a whole matrix of inter-textuality with Huckleberry Finn that I found interesting, too; though it’s so long since I read that novel I’m sure I missed most of the references. Like I said, it’s clever.

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  2. I started this book a few months ago but stopped reading somewhere around page 80 – I found it very artificial and I just couldn’t become absorbed in the story …your comment that it was more like playing a game than reading rings true for me…I likened it to a movie script – of the sort of movie I don’t much like.

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    • Bernadette – you’re the first person I know to have stopped reading it, but not the only one who wasn’t impressed. It’s funny with books that have been hyped: I wonder if I’d “discovered” it for myself, I might have enjoyed it more. Impossible to say.

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  3. Hello again Elizabeth, I’ve read it now and would concur with everything you said. I was compelled to finish it only to see how it turned out but I too had lost steam probably around 2/3 way through. I thought it was a bit tricksy and didn’t feel there was a character I could care about (and I’m not talking likeable necessarily). Like you, I wouldn’t rush to read any more of her stuff. I can see why it has been so hyped, mainly because it is well-written and it is clever and pretty well-sustained with no huge errors or holes. The thing I found most interesting was the rendering of contemporary socio-economic life in the US, with young people losing jobs and enormous shopping centres closing down.

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    • Thanks for popping back, Jenny. I agree, the portrait of contemporary socio-economic life in the US was interesting. That alone made the book worth reading. Those were the sections where I heard hints of Huck Finn: the satirical portraits of people, places and situations as they travelled down the river (not that I have any vivid memories to compare with GG: only vague recollections).

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