Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of film noir and crime fiction. Though Raymond Chandler is not my absolute favorite, who doesn’t like Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl is as dazzling as its film adaptation. Without flinching, the novel sets up a story about a husband framed for his wife’s murder. All of us have seen the movie and know the premise and its quick spiral from harrowing to ridiculous and finally twisted. A quick synopsis:
- Husband Nick finds wife Amy missing
- Nick incriminated in Amy’s murder
- Amy reveals that she staged it
- Amy murders a man who lends her his home as a refuge
- Amy returns to Nick and they live crazily ever after.
I originally picked up the novel because I had seen the movie (I know- I’m a sinner for watching before reading) and was curious about how the novelist would capture the influence of the media. In many ways, the TV and media dominate our perceptions and play an undeniable role in any crime story. No longer can the writer simply create a vacuum where Facebook and Twitter don’t exist, especially when writing a contemporary story.
How many of us have watched shows that delve into a true crime story about a wife and her deranged husband? Side glances and lines of timidly rising hands. If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re probably lying. Other writers have explored our obsession with violence and voyeurism: Hitchcock, or how about Don Delillo’s White Noise. But where Flynn distinguishes herself is in her presentation of a 21st century beast- the media, which has acquired more and more prominence with our addiction to the internet.
I was surprised to realize that the media plays a small role in the first part of the novel and increases in importance as Nick become entangled in Amy’s plan to set him up for her murder. The media does not play a major role until the second part, when policemen grow desperate to find the culprit.
I liked the way Flynn handled the influence of the media on our lives, using different modes of writing. For example, in a scene where the FBI interviews Amy, the psycho wife, Flynn uses the structure that resembles a screenplay:
A: bleh, bleh, bleep
B: bleh, blah, bleep
The novel seems impeccable, a modern day version of Marquis de Sade scenarios. The only gripe I have concerns the second half of the novel, where the plot stops being the murder mystery and becomes a, This is how I got away with it, which feels anticlimactic albeit still comic. The second part essentially answers the Whodunit and becomes a map of Amy’s plan and how she envisions it ending- with Nick on death row.
The plotting and character development are amazing, but I felt that near the end, the reader was asked to believe too much in the plausibility of a husband living with his psycho wife who framed him for her own murder. Though Flynn answers any outstanding question the reader may have about the case, the ending is too conveniently wrapped. That is a small complaint for such a fun, twisted novel.
Also, I sense that Flynn (and this may be me looking too much into it) has an appreciation for poetry because she sprinkles her prose and story with rhyme and inventive word use. For example, the notes Amy leaves her husband when she goes missing are written in rhyme.
What does the book do better than the film? What does the film accomplish that the book doesn’t?
- Does a better job of portraying the influence of the media from the start
- Captures the surreal sense of the past through its soundtrack and the romanticized beginnings to Amy and Nick’s relationship
- Dives into the character’s motivations and back story
- Uses different modes of writing to portray the influence of the media and to convince the reader that Nick might just be a murderer
I have always suspected that writers have a lot to learn from crime fiction since suspense and mystery are powerful impetuses for readers to keep reading and film goers to keep watching.
Take away for my own writing: I will keep a close lookout for chapter structures and will try to find good points to leave the reader wondering what will happen next to the characters.