Scripted. Between the lines

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn (Phoenix)

We all know the script now. TV has taught us precisely what to say in times of woe or joy, and even the great and the good obey the given texts. Statesmen’s hearts go out to the afflicted, sports stars are over the moon, youthful murder victims are promising and popular, aged stiffs beloved. It is written. Or, rather, it is spoken.

Author Gillian Flynn uses the tired television prescription to devastating effect in Gone Girl. The fact that she is able to render sharply observed character despite their TV mumbles charges this page-turner with energy. She is not scornful of the individuals mouthing dull platitudes – she simply reserves her sneer for the debasement of emotion and language to conform with comic book vocabulary, even in profoundly serious situations.

So Flynn wins both ways: she gains the popular vote by offering unchallenging accessibility – and wins endless literary awards for the accuracy of her social assessments. Snobs can savour her caricatures and Average Reader can relish the exciting thriller.

Flynn’s remarkable success with this novel is well-earned. Any would-be writer who seeks to discover her formula will quickly be chastened by the realisation that she  works hard. Research, research, research. And she is wonderfully observant. She has the gift of persuading readers into inclusion, to supposing they recognise universal versions of the characters’ motives in their own lives.

Flynn’s acid knowledge of the intimate compromises of bad marriages are cruelly accurate. As the Financial Times reviewer warns darkly of Gone Girl: “Read it and stay single”. John O'Çonnor, for The Guardian, says the reader becomes “a gawker at the full spectrum of marital dysfunction”. “Thriller of the Year” gushed The Observer.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund

The cover notes mention that Flynn lives in Chicago with her husband and son. We trust that the murderous family passions unleashed in Gone Girl do not pertain in the Flynn household.

This reviewer has not seen the film version of Gone Girl, but the casting of Rosamund Pike in the eponymous role is startlingly apt. The cool, capable beauty of this tall patrician blonde is perfect for the role of an intelligent woman who has been moulded into accepting social and personal expectations which contradict her sense of self. Even her marriage is, in a sense, scripted.

She rebels in dangerously subtle ways as, after cosseted life in New York, financial woes force her to decamp with husband for the langours of hick life in hick Missouri.  Disappointed, the ravishingly pretty Barbie doll turns manipulative. Her weak-to-average husband Rick doesn’t know what’s hit him.

The construction of the novel is complicated, but Flynn cunningly controls the parallels between seemingly quotidian life and a more informative diary. Things are certainly not what they seem.

An abbreviation of the preface is a pertinent precis: “Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it...” (Tony Kushner, The Illusion).

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