My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It was perhaps a mistake to embark on a novel which is, one way or another, centered on a tumultuous marriage, particularly when your own marriage is somewhat tumultuous. Still, I suppose it speaks to the relatability of the novel that, despite its bizarre and extreme circumstances, the story nonetheless is depressingly familiar in its characterisation of relationship struggles.
On to GONE GIRL: a book I initially read for market research purposes, but was genuinely impressed by.
NB: This review will be rife with spoilers and deconstruction, so if you–like I–have somehow dodged this book and its subsequent film until now, don’t read any further. Regardless of what you think of the plot twists, the experience of this novel will certainly be spoilt by knowing them in advance.
Donald Maass, in his non-fiction craft book “The Emotional Craft of Fiction”, described Gone Girl has having one of the best plot twists in modern times, but the “mega” plot twist itself was lack-lustre for me. It’s not so much that I even saw it coming, as I had actually assumed from the start that the plot would take this shape (ie, that the woman was faking her own death). I assumed this due to the length of the book, and the fact that if she really were dead, the novel would have to be significantly shorter than it was. From a plot perspective, I wasn’t hugely wowed.
The characterisations of the two POVs were brilliant, though. Neither were remotely likable, and there are few things I enjoy more than miserable nasty bastards done well. Check that box, and then check it a few more times. Amy is breathtakingly vile, and her husband is a bottomless pit of unsatisfying Mediocre Man with a heavy dash of self awareness. Together, they are a pretty little car crash you can’t look away from.
In short, there was a lot to like (or to enjoy disliking, depending on your point of view) and I inhaled the novel in just over a day. The crux of this review, as my reviews so often seem to do, comes down to this: why 4 stars, and not 5?
A few different things stood out to me. Not enough to spoil my enjoyment in a significant way, but enough to knock a star off an otherwise very engaging book.
Forensics–probably is straightforward to say that they aren’t particularly accurate >.> but I mostly overlook that kind of thing in these books, since I’m not a scientist, so it doesn’t bug me.
The lying of the MCs. In crime fiction you have this golden rule about first person perspectives and how much they’re allowed to obfuscate from the reader; this is the reason why Sherlock Holmes is narrated by Watson, and Poirot is narrated by Hastings, for example, or else kept to third person for each of those. When you have a character who is deliberately withholding information, it creates false tension. I wasn’t keen on Nick’s false tension.
The reason it works to do that with a sidekick is it creates character tension between the detective and sidekick, which we are privy to, rather than being in direct conflict with the narrator. And the reason it DOESN’T work in most other cases is the narrator can just withhold indefinitely. It’s cheating, you might say. There’s quite a lot I could go on about with this subject to explain my pov and clarify this, but I don’t want to waffle on endlessly. Suffice to say the topic of how much a narrator can conceal from the audience, and why, is deeply interesting to this nerdy supergeek–and probably a bit outside the scope of just a review.
The salient point is that plot reveals occurred not through clever construction, but through frequent obfuscation. It’s hard for me to explain concisely exactly what I mean but effect was very staged. I give Amy a pass because her diary was supposed to conceal, but I am unclear on who the narrator is supposed to be, for Nick.
Pacing wise, I found the first half a little slow, and the second half slightly padded. This may be personal preference, though, and overall the structure worked. I am just very picky and like a tight, leak-free novel when possible.