Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gone Girl

I've been recommended Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn severally, and heard praise of it, so I took it off my reading queue and actually read it over winter break. This book is a thriller, and a departure from my usual reading in tone and subject matter. The voice, however, is perfect: unreliable narrators, all the way down, like nesting Russian dolls.

The book is an incredible feat of writing, tightly-plotted, intricately-woven, a virtuosic demonstration of writerly skill in manipulating the readers' attention, curiosity, and mental state. I read it in two sittings, and the one break I took was when one chapter ended in too-dramatic of a cliffhanger; this let me put down the book in disgust at such blatant attention-pandering. (A few hours later I picked it up and finished it.)

That said, I didn't like this book.

It made me feel bad.

First it lured me in, with multiple first-person unreliable narrators and lots of interesting setups for the central mystery (a missing woman). The unreliable narrators are awesomely well-written --- it feels like a true glimpse into another mind, recognizably like my own. The book had several points where characters voiced those little internal thoughts that never rise to enough significance to be mentioned in conversation, but keep cycling back and become normal internal mental refrains. I always wonder how authors manage to figure out such things to add to their writing, and to do it so smoothly that it deeply resonates with me. (Maybe they're trying all the time, and I don't register the notes that fail to resonate?)

Then, it gradually revealed that every. single. character. is a sociopath. Creepily, deviously, ingeniously. (And here I refer to both the characters and to the manner of reveal.) This was haunting, and unsettling, and --- I suppose, to give the genre its due --- thrilling. But horrible. I don't want to have such characters in my imagination, much less in the actual world I inhabit. I was actually upset about choices that these imaginary people were making in order to hurt each other, because I don't want to have such choices happen in the world around me. I don't want people to be evil, I don't want people to be hurt, I don't want people to hate each other. And this book is utterly, cleverly, unerringly twisted; the characters even acknowledge as much to each other:
"You two are the most fucked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in fucked-up people." (page 415)
The book is a masterpiece of writing, but not the kind of recreational fiction that I ever want to experience. I don't like being frightened or disgusted for fun; I like a challenge, a puzzle, an unreliable narrator, and I don't mind philosophical or ethical quandaries, but I want people to learn and grow and improve. This book doesn't do that; it's purely down, a descent into vicious, bitter, resentful psychosis.

I do not recommend, unless you already know you like the "thriller" genre.

This post's theme word is dysphemism, "a detrimental phrase used deliberately in place of a nicer one." The opposite of euphemism. It's a novel, but I refer to it as "an odious sequence of insidious, brain-infecting, evil words."

No comments: