Let’s all say it together before I get a chance to tell you again: this book is not what I expected. On America’s radar for the past ten years, this is one of those confusing all the books (or movies) with the same hot word in the title. Let’s see: Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Girl, Interrupted… of course there are older ones. Goodreads lists almost 2000 books with “Girl” in the title, but I’m talking about a wave of popular books, like when “bee” graced a bunch of new titles, or “lies” or “bones” or “zoo” Whatever. I lumped them together and moved them to a compartment in my brain of books I might read but I’m not dying to.
And once again I found myself in a small town in a local bookstore. You’d think I look for these things. (I do.) The store in question—while an amazing bookstore for so many other reasons—did not have a tremendous amount of used books, but I happened to find both Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo used and thought, well wouldn’t that be a fun theme for beach reads. Girls. And Books that I don’t really know what the heck they’re about nor how they differ. (Okay, I had some idea.) Since they’re both on the TBR (and more pop fiction-y), let’s go!
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a crime/mystery/thriller, popular fiction with some literary bent (though I would not call it literary fiction, at all). It was a New York Times bestseller. It also made it onto lists of best books in the 2000s and thus landed on my TBR. Still rated well with readers, the movie was also a success, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Here’s the thing. Like We Were Liars, you can’t talk too much about the book without ruining it. The twists are the thing, or at least most of the thing. It is also written pretty darn well and has a unique form which serves it well. (I don’t always condone epistolary form—and it’s only partly epistolary—but here it is a must.) And here’s the other thing: if you think you know the twist because you’ve heard too much about it over the years, it is entirely possible that you know the “main” twist, which is revealed halfway through. There are still surprises to come. (If, on the other hand, you have seen the movie, well, not much to see here, folks. The plots are very, very similar.) True, I am a bibliophile, but if I were you, I would read the book first and then see the movie.
The initial plot is pretty usual: Nick comes home on his fifth anniversary and his wife is missing. There are signs of struggle and a number of clues, but no one knows where Amy has gone. The number one suspect, as always: the husband. We find out that Nick is a Mississippi river, Midwestern boy who returned “home” after his life in New York came crashing down around his ears and his mother became terminally ill. He drags his New York wife with him, the famous Amazing Amy of the ridiculously popular book series. The rest of the novel uses both Nick’s and Amy’s perspectives (through a diary, mostly), hopping around in time (primarily over the days after the disappearance). We’re asking if Amy is alive. We’re asking if Nick did it. We’re asking if a husband has done bad things does that make him guilty of murder. And we’re asking if the real trial for murders is in the public arena. With several interesting characters and a solid style that draws you from page to page late into the night, Gone Girl looks to remain a popular book for first-timers and especially those who like thrillers or mysteries.
My favorite things about the book were the playful form and how that interacted with the story itself, how it helped to reveal both the characters and the plot in slow and purposeful ways that keep the reader guessing, and also the questioning of the whole system of post-disappearance. It really makes you think about how public opinion is fickle, driven by the media, shallow, and important. It can determine fates. Plus, I love the point (I think it was made more clear in the movie) that an innocent man who just lost his wife is totally going to act like a weirdo. And just because someone does some bad things it in no way makes them a murderer. Most people really like the twists, and I enjoyed them as much as the next guy. My main beef was at the end. The ending. I guess people are pretty split on it. I was surprised when we got to the end of the movie and both my daughter and husband were like, “Yeah, totally.” ‘Cuz I had been like, “Wait, what? That sucks!” though the more I dwell on it the more it seems like the only real ending that works. You’ll have to see and decide for yourself.
Want a vacation read? Something easy and entertaining? Don’t mind the f-bomb or plenty of sex? Then this is a good one for you.
I know I just told you to read the book first and then see the 2014 movie, but the truth is that if you have read the book, the movie might bore you a li’l bit. I thought it was so slow, but then I realized the people I was watching it with—who hadn’t read the book—were really engaged. It very closely resembles the book (as much as a movie can, I reckon). It is solidly made. It also has a whole lotta f-bombs and graphic sex (four scenes, I believe—we skipped them, as we were watching with our teen and that would be awkward as butt. Actually, I don’t really do graphic sex scenes anyhow). The movie also was well-liked by people and critics alike (and was written by the author). It’s a solid movie-night movie for an older audience.