Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Cover of Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnGone Girl is a thrilling read.

I won’t give away the story, but will just say that this book invites you to make assumptions, but then blows those assumptions away in a series of plot twists.

It’s not a crime thriller, as you may think at first, but a psychological thriller.

The prose is sharp and intelligent. The characters are complex and believable, so that you root for them even when you know they are inherently dislikeable people. The plot is clever, with enough clues and red herrings to keep you guessing.

No wonder it’s a best seller.

What I liked about Gone Girl

There are a great many things to admire about this book. I have picked just a few features that I found interesting as a writer.

Different points of view:
The book is written from two first-person perspectives. That can be tricky to pull off, but here it works well. I’ll describe a couple of reasons why:

  1. The characters sound different, in style and tone. Not too different, but different enough for the reader to be convinced they are listening to different voices.
  2. In addition, each chapter is headed by the name of the protagonist who is telling the story in that particular section of text. This avoids any possible confusion.

Different timelines:
The book is divided into three parts. The first part involves two timelines running concurrently – another tough challenge for an author, as each shift has the potential to pull the reader out of the story. But Gillian Flynn has achieved it elegantly. Again, I will give a couple of reasons why.

  • Clues to each timeline are set out within the chapter headings, allowing the reader to follow the sequence in both lines, while still retaining an important element of mystery. (Let’s just say: we learn more about the relevance of the two timelines later on.)
  • The two characters are talking about the same history and the same relationship, but from a completely different perspectives. The contrast is so great, it causes immediate tension and intrigue. As a reader, you need to keep reading in order to try and work out what is going on. And who is right? Who is wrong?

Complex characters:
Neither character is ‘good’, and both characters have deep flaws. Both behave badly. The writer cleverly builds up empathy for each one: using first person POV really helps here. And then allows us to see their flaws and weaknesses. I ended up rooting for both of them – despite the fact they are both nasty people and are working against each other. This is a tremendous achievement, and I still haven’t quite worked out how the writer has managed to do it.

What I didn’t like about Gone Girl

I am just going to mention two features I dislike in the edition of the book I read. Neither of these have anything to do with the story. Or the writing of the story. They are to do with the way the book is laid out.

  1. The beginning blurb: a list of quoted accolades. This goes on for three pages – or four, if you count the inside cover. I know this is fashionable nowadays, but it can be counterproductive. It smacks of desperation and hard-sell, none of which are required in this particular instance. What with the title page, the dedication page, and a quotation at the beginning, you have to turn over seven sheets of paper until you actually reach the start of the story.
    Note to self: too much. Don’t ever do this!
  2. Too much padding at the back: resulting in an unexpected ending
    When I hold a physical book in my hand (and I still prefer paper books to ebooks), I have a feel for how close I am to the end of the story. Sometimes, if I’ve been deeply involved in a book, I’ll even eke out the last few pages just to prolong the reading experience. But, in this edition of Gone Girl, the end of the book caught me by surprise. This made the ending of the story seem rushed and the book felt unfinished. Looking back, this perception is unfair. The story ended well – if badly for one of the protagonists – it was just that I  hadn’t been expecting it to end at that point.Why was I expecting more? Because there was still a substantial wedge of pages left. Half a centimetre of book left, in fact. And, yes, I’m sad to confess I measured it. 37 pages in total.
    37 pages to go! No wonder I was deceived into thinking there was more to come.These 37 pages consisted of several blank pages, 3 pages of acknowledgements, 6 pages of reading group notes, and 18 pages of the first chapter of another book by the same author.
    Another note to self: This is too much, don’t let a publisher do this to your book.

The edition I read was from our local library and was the 2013 paperback edition published in 2013 by Phoenix, an imprint of Orion Books, London.

Anyway, shame the package distracted me from the story. It was a great read.

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