Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Published: 2013 (paperback), Phoenix, 466 pages
Thriller, fiction

Setting the scene

On the fifth July 2012, Nick and Amy Dunne reach their fifth wedding anniversary. But things are different this year.

Curbing from their usual dish of flown-in lobsters, the Dunnes delve into a dish best served cold. Very cold.

Their small town in Missouri is about to be hit with the news that Amy – beautiful, smart, cool – has gone. Disappeared the morning of the anniversary. As the investigation begins, the finger points towards the husband, Nick, whose demeanour is awkward and all-too casual.

A smarmy smile. A disposable phone. A dodgy alibi. A lot of lies… Nick is nothing but suspicious.

So, the case seems obvious enough. Right?

Review

This is not a story of a happy, conventional marriage. It is a dissection of marriage at its worst, at a point where Nick and Amy are left wondering who they are, and who each other are. The climatic point comes when we realise what kind of people they actually are.

The novel has an interesting structure. It is non-linear and written from the first-person narrative of Nick and Amy, the chapters alternating between Nick’s narrative and Amy’s. Many of Amy’s chapters are written in the form of diary entries which go back years, giving the reader insight into the development, and deterioration, of the couple’s relationship. Her chapters sometimes include a question in the form of a personality quiz to reflect her previous work (is the answer a, b, c?) which initially comes across as a bit try-hard but soon grows on you.

Nick’s chapters are written in present time, beginning ‘The Day Of’ Amy’s disappearance. The first-person narrative creates a very conversational tone to the novel, it is relaxed and personal and explains the heavy use of offensive language throughout- these are ordinary people after all.

The plot is smart (Flynn is good at inserting cruel wit into the novel), shocking and utterly gripping. The novel is split into three parts and the tension is ramped up in the second part with a climatic twist. The reader soon recognises that the narrative is unreliable, in particular as we realise Nick is withholding information; Flynn cleverly reserves or prescribes doses of critical information throughout, keeping the reader guessing and on tenterhooks.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Overall 

Would I recommend this book? Yes
★★★★☆

This is a brilliantly crafted psychological thriller, exploring two complex personalities and their union in a disharmonious marriage.

The ending is ominous and unadorned. It leaves you slightly dissatisfied, yet it is in-fitting with the dark and twisted story and suits the characters disturbed personalities.

It doesn’t surprise me that this novel has received such critical acclaim and I would recommend it to anyone as a quick, gripping read (I’ve been careful not to give away spoilers!).

Adaptation to film

It has been revealed that David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, Fight Club) is to direct a film adaptation of Gone Girl.

Ben Affleck has been cast as Nick and as he is an actor familiar to gritty, complex roles (I particularly liked him as Tony Mendez in Argo) I think this is brilliant casting. There are several possibilities for the casting of Amy.

I only hope the adaptation does justice to the novel.

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The White Queen – Philippa Gregory (& BBC TV adaptation)

The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

Published: 2009, Simon & Schuster, paperback, 409 pages
Book 1 of ‘The Cousins’ Wars’ Series, historical fiction

Setting the scene

It is 1464 in a divided medieval England. Civil war rages between two rival houses, both with claim to the throne: York and Lancaster.

Three years after overthrowing the Lancastrian king, the Yorkist Edward IV still endeavours to establish his rule as rightful king against opposition from the rival house.

A not-so-chance meeting results in a surprising marriage between this York king and a Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Woodville. The two are sent spiralling down a tumultuous path, a bloody path of unrest and betrayal with opposition escalating treacherously close to home.

Just how far can Elizabeth go to protect her family and their rise to power? Does a mother’s resolute ambition ultimately compromise the safety of her children?

Review

The novel is written in the first-person narrative of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen of the title. Typically victimised through history, Gregory ventured to do Elizabeth justice by acknowledging the strength and determination she upheld throughout the difficulties she faced, and she certainly faced her fair share.

We follow Elizabeth down a rollercoaster of a journey, from her humble beginnings to the testing and unstable life she leads as Queen consort to Edward IV. She encounters disloyalty, charges of witchcraft and bastardy, the execution of many close to her and the mysterious disappearance of her two princes in the Tower of London. All that barely scratches the surface of the challenges she faces.

It is easy to determine that Elizabeth is a strong and formidable female and for the large part she is a character we sympathise with. However, I nonetheless found her difficult to warm to, especially as we are introduced to her as a woman who deliberately uses her beauty to ensnare the king’s attention. Her ruthless ambition also becomes a little irksome towards the end of the novel and I was grateful for scenes where she is depicted spending time with her young children, as they make her a rounded character, not solely a power-hungry beauty.

The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

Entwined within this novel of political dispute and military action is an unexpected subplot surrounding an ancient legend. The legend of the water-goddess Melusina, who is half-woman and half-serpent or fish, is recognisable nowadays through its retelling as the Little Mermaid. In the novel, Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, believes that she descends from Melusina and we see her and Elizabeth performing enchantments throughout. The legend is a surprising and enjoyable element in the novel.

One of my favourite aspects of the novel is Gregory’s inclusion of a poem written by Anthony Woodville, Elizabeth’s beloved brother. I thought it was beautiful when I found out that it is the actual poem Anthony, in reality, wrote the night before his death. This is touching because Anthony is such a warm character and it also brings home the fact that this is based on real people and largely real events.

Overall 

Would I recommend this book? Yes
★★★☆☆(3.5)

Gregory’s writing style is easy and informative though slightly too romanticised for my liking. She manages to keep the reader’s head above water in what could have been an all-too complex plot of political tug-of-war.

Gregory set out to bring history to life and she has succeeded in doing so.

TV series

BBC TV 10-part adaptation: BBC One, Sundays, 9pm
(First episode broadcast 16 June 2013, US: 10 August 2013)

The TV adaptation has been criticised for its historical implausibility; despite this, I am enjoying the series. The first episode is impressively faithful to the novel and I particularly like the casting of Max Irons – The Host (2013) – as Edward IV. Irons comes across as charming and amiable, just as Edward IV is in the novel and is recorded to have been in history.

The series is more romanticised than the novel, though this is often the case when trying to draw in viewership. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of it unfolds.

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