Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn: Book review

Gone GirlGone Girl is one of those everyone-is-talking-about-this-so-I-guess-I’ll-check-it-out-too books. Happily, it’s not one of those crazy-popular books you read with one hand turning the pages and the other batting away the unholy stench of shit reeking from the pages. This is a bestselling thriller that is actually pretty thrilling! Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its problems.

Spoilers (of the utterly-plot-ruining-so-watch-out variety) follow.

This much you know from the blurb on the back of the book: Golden boy Nick Dunne meets golden girl Amy Elliott. They hit it off. They wed. Then everyone goes sour: Nick loses his sweet job as an entertainment writer for an Entertainment Weekly-type magazine*, Amy’s trust fund is wiped out by her flaky parents’ financial mismanagement, the two move back to Nick’s decaying-middle-American-shithole hometown, their marriage starts to break down. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears from their home. The crime scene suggests a violent struggle. The police immediately suspect Nick – the husband is always guilty, right? – except we know he didn’t do it. So what has happened to Amy?

(*Author Gillian Flynn was also formerly an entertainment writer for Entertainment Weekly. Which is probably just a crazy coincidence.)

Last chance to back out if you don’t want any spoilers. And this really is one of those stories you should experience spoiler free.

Halfway through her novel, Flynn completely upends it. Amy hasn’t been killed by some violent, mysterious man. She’s staged her disappearance as an Old Testament God-level revenge against Nick for cheating on her with a younger women. On the one hand, it’s fiendishly clever: Gone Girl immediately becomes something much more compelling, much fresher than the “missing woman” story we’ve been led to believe it is.

On the other hand… something about the twist flattens the story into two dimensions, and it’s less compelling. Suddenly, Nick’s increasingly misogynist feelings towards Amy (and our increasingly complicated feelings towards him) are brushed aside – hey, the reason he hates his wife is because she really is an actual literal psychopath. Hey, of course Nick is the good guy again, because even though he cheated on Amy, she really is lying, manipulative, hate-filled* and through-and-through horrible. Which is kind of a shame, because in its first half the book frequently cuts to the heart of what it is to be in a relationship with devastating clarity, the kind of clarity usually reserved for those times when you wake up at 3 a.m. and remember your death is coldly inevitable, only to turn Nick and Amy’s marriage into more conventional cat-and-mouse spy-versus-spy stuff.

(*Seriously, there is a lot of woman-on-woman use of the C-word in here.)

That said, Flynn mostly succeeds in keeping the momentum up in the second half of the book, as Nick starts plotting to get Amy back and Amy starts plotting to outmanoeuvre Nick’s plots and Nick starts plotting to outmanoeuvre Amy’s plots to outmanoeuvre Nick’s plots… and so on and so on. It whips up and up and around itself until it all finally collapses in the last few ludicrous pages, as the plot fizzles out with a whimper – Amy (who’s also an actual literal murderer by this point in addition to being an actual literal psychopath) manipulates Nick into taking her back and falls pregnant with his artificially inseminated kid, and Nick accepts because he relishes her mindgames and wants to protect his unborn kid… or something.

I bet most people will finish Gone Girl with a “Seriously – WTF was that dumb ending” expression. But it’s a pretty entertaining ride getting to said dumb ending. Any writer who can get you to keep turning the page even as your scoffing eyebrow creeps ever higher up your forehead has pulled off a pretty good trick.

 

Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare: Book review

(Clockwork Princess coverSpoilers follow.)

Oh boy this is a stupid book.

I honestly don’t mean “stupid” as an entirely bad thing – I like plenty of things which are “stupid”, and there’s nothing guilty or ironic about my affection for them.  I mean “stupid” as in, Clockwork Princess is unashamedly romantic and melodramatic and hand-wringing and bosom-heaving. And if that’s what you’re reading this series for: fine. You’ll love this final instalment. Everyone’s paired off neatly, more or less, and everyone gets a tidy ending. Hurray.

I guess I’m more about plot than romance, though, and the plot is disappointing. For starters, it’s thin, so thin the novel’s sharp-clavicled cover model would look at it and be like “Seriously, eat a sandwich, plot”. But it seems weightier than it is because half of every page is devoted to characters ruminating on the exact same problems they were ruminating on a chapter ago. (“I love Tessa but Jem loves Tessa, woe!” “I love Sophie but Sophie is a mere servant girl, woe!” “Gideon tricked me into wasting scones, woe!”) There are whole pointless chapters you can just glance over without losing the thread of the story – which is a hallmark of Clare’s work, and not a great one.

It’s the resolution to the plot that’s most disappointing. (Book, I am disappoint.) Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince told us that Tessa, our immortal heroine, has mysterious powers unknown even to her, which make her vitally important to the cunning plans of Mortmain, our villain. Well, Mortmain seems to do a pretty good job building an unstoppable army of robots without relying on Tessa, and even after finishing this book I’m still not clear on exactly why he needed her so badly. (Something to do with using Tessa’s shapeshifting ability to make her transform herself into Mortmain’s dead father, so Mortmain can access dear old dad’s memories and make his automatons even more powerful. Or something. Like, is that all.)

And the ending just feels so… easy. Tessa is torn between her love for two best friends, Will (who’s beautiful and arrogant and less of a dick than he seems) and Jem (who’s beautiful and kind and suffering from a fatal illness that will kill him any day now). She ends up with Will, but not because she has to make any sort of sacrifice or choice: Jem – impossibly, implausibly nice Jem- goes and joins an order of immortal monks (… kind of), despite saying early on that he’d never do that, freeing her up to marry Will. Easy. But then, after a century or so, when Will’s long dead, Jem leaves the order and hooks up with Tessa anyway. Even easier! So she ends up with both of them. The cake is both had and eaten.

And Mortmain is defeated pretty easily, because Mortmain is a dull villain who’s evil mostly just because he’s evil (another Clare hallmark), much as Clare tries to flesh him out with a backstory. He exists because someone needs to be working to destroy Tessa and Jem and Will and the rest of their demon-fighting Shadowhunter friends, right?

I kind of feel bad coming down harshly on Clockwork Princess. It is what it is. It’s not terrible. (And it’s a lot better and more inventive than the increasingly over-the-top Mortal Instruments series, which this Infernal Devices series precedes). Other people will read this book for much different reasons than I did. And those people will probably like it a lot better.

Previously: Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare; Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare