Thrillers have a special little place in my heart. My father is mildly dyslexic and finds that it’s easier for him to focus on a book if it has an exciting plot, so he reads books about kidnappings, plots to overthrow governments, and tons and tons of murder. Frederick Forsyth, David Baldacci, Henning Mankell, Thomas Harris… If it has an ominous pair of eyes or a man’s silhouette on the cover, my dad probably owns it. Over the years, I have read a fair number of thrillers myself, either at my father’s recommendation or because I wanted to check a certain book out before buying him a copy for his birthday. When a new Dan Brown book comes out, he reads it first and then watches me with twinkling eyes as I try to win our usual bet (“Can I Figure Out Who Did It Before I’m Halfway Through The Novel”). We watch Danish crime shows together, discuss Sherlock’s latest mystery, and he tries to shush me before I can say “oh, it’s totally that guy” as much as possible.
As fond as I am of the genre, mediocrity is an issue; too often thrillers are positively rife with shoddy characterisation and melodramatic writing (“as long as the plot is fast and just complicated enough to make the reader feel clever, right?”). However, every so often one gem comes along that sweeps readers off their feet, breaks through into the mainstream, and dominates airport book stores for years to come. Gone Girl is one such well-deserved hit.
Unlike the many “who is planning to asassinate the president/kidnap his daughter/erase his Candy Crush high score” plots out there, Gone Girl actually has something to say. Yes, it is a book about a kidnapping and the subsequent investigation, but Flynn is a talented writer who manages to turn it into something more. Gone Girl is an engaging commentary on the tropes of the genre, the narratives we expect to find in a case like this, and how the media has completely distorted the way we respond to tragedy. As Nick is questioned by the police, he can’t help but wonder what the innocent husband on CSI would do. When Amy’s father has an emotional outburst, he winces at how much he sounds like he’s in a movie.
Throw in some unreliable narration, a very prominent interest in gender roles (Amy’s “Cool Girl” speech has really struck a chord with female readers), and a few actually surprising twists, and you’ve got yourself a book I really enjoyed. It’s not so much about the case as it is an exploration of storytelling, marriage, sexism, and identity. This makes Gone Girl one of those rare interesting entries in a genre that can be so very stale and repetitive. It’s not perfect (I have some issues with it that I can’t really get into here without spoiling the whole thing), but it deserves all the credit it gets for doing something and has some truly clever writing that changed the way I see certain things. If you are going to read only one thriller this year, read this one, preferably before getting spoiled by the David Fincher movie – which, incidentally, is also great and definitely worth a watch.
Note: very triggery in terms of rape and abuse.