Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl

Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl

Gone Girl was 2012’s literary sensation and its drug-like grip on the reading public didn’t let up in 2013. The tube looked like a Gone Girl reading hour at times; stacks of the orange and black cover filled bookshop tables and people of Twitter muttered about THAT twist.

I had been reluctant to read it, in part, because of its ubiquity, but also the arguments of the people who didn’t enjoy it. The bad reviews made Gone Girl sound like pulp fiction littered with despicable people.

And it is – littered with despicable people that is. You can’t, for the most part, fault Gillian Flynn’s taunt, business like writing. And there’s no doubting Gone Girl’s page-turning credentials; I barely saw my family over Christmas, so engrossed was I in the lives of a spoilt rich-girl sociopath and a man-child liar.

For the handful of people that don’t know, Gone Girl is written as a dual narrative, the story of the disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne told from her perspective and her husband’s, Nick.

Gone Girl’s very addictiveness makes it one of those uncomfortable reads where you’re more interested in what’s going to happen next then what’s happening now. For the most part Flynn kept me in the present, but when the plot hit a speedbump (and it did that a few times) I would peak a few pages ahead to reassure myself that this was going to be worth the investment.

The pace is relentless; Flynn mostly manages to hold the plot reins tight, although she lets the pace slacken at times, especially during Nick’s narrative.

We’re all met a Nick; good-looking, lazy, thinks life should be about what he wants to do, not what he should do. He’s what everyone would describe as ‘a good guy’, which behind closed doors means average and child-like. He whines constantly that the evil internets stole his job as an entertainment journalist and, when the big media guns come out, confuses his former job of film reviewer with crime reporting. The part where he confesses to holding himself up in a garage to read his old magazine as he ‘misses it’ was pitiful. He’s a bully and a narcissist who wants nothing more than his own way at all times. I couldn’t stand him.

But I liked Amy. She’s an absolute nutter, sure, and not ideal friend material – in fact I wouldn’t want her within a mile of me. But as a character in a thriller she’s great company; ballsy, hugely intelligent, self-aware, knows people better than they know themselves and doesn’t suffer fools. She’s ambitious and wants people to be better than they are. Even if I can’t relate to her actions, I could relate to some of her frustrations.

The key to enjoying Gone Girl is to suspend all belief. The novel’s setting may read like real life – all recession hit suburban America, soccer ‘moms’ and out-of-their-depth Missouri police officers – but Gone Girl is as fantastical as Harry Potter. It’s melodramatic and implausible. Go along with it or continually smack your head into its pages at the ludicrousness of it all.

But in amongst all the bonkers stuff, Flynn sneaks in many a truism. Amy makes several astute demolitions of gender constructs and her observations of the ‘Cool Girl’ phenomenon (women who contow to a male ideal) hits many a disappointing post-feminist nail on the head. The novel also says more about love and marriage than any romantic novel. In short, get comfortable at your peril.

Flynn is guilty of some modern writer’s bad habits including the leaking of her own opinions into the mouths of their characters; little (bracketed) asides that chime oddly. The whole ‘the internet (or the Internet as Americans call it) killed journalism theme was embarrassing and rang untrue in the mouth of a 34-year-old man who lived in Brooklyn. At nearly 500 pages long, this is not a novel that needs any extra padding. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Flynn was made redundant from Entertainment Weekly in 2009. Clearly, despite the huge success of her novels, it stills stings.

Gone Girl’s popularity is easy to understand, it’s everything a good thriller should be, a gripping page-turner with a cast of goodies and badies, enough clues to think you know what’s coming and enough twists to keep you guessing. It’s a smart, easy read. If you haven’t already, it’s worth jumping into Flynn’s crazy world and discovering for yourself what all the fuss is about.

by Suzanne Elliott

Theatre Review: The Light Princess, the National Theatre

Rosalie Craig as The Light Princess

Rosalie Craig as The Light Princess

The Light Princess, the Tori Amos-scored, Samuel Adamson-written, Marianne Elliott-directed musical was contentious even before it reached the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre, its many delays hinting at trouble at t’musical mill.

When it (finally) opened in early October, it met with mixed reviews; critics were far from universally convinced it was worth the wait. The Daily Mail’s curmudgeon critic Quentin Letts practically choked on his quill in his review, scoffing: “Lord knows what sort of mushrooms they were serving in the Royal National Theatre canteen when artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner agreed to stage this peculiar musical”.

A self-styled ‘feminist fairy tale’ fuelled by magic mushrooms? Sounds ace.

And I thought it was. This modern re-boot of a 19th century short story by George MacDonald has  a magical heart, a lavish dose of glitter and goodwill and some rousing, feel good choruses. The Matthew Bourne-esque scenery, all iridescent lakes, puppet rats and gothic towers added to the production’s charm and wit.

The musical tells the story of Althea, the Light Princess of the title, who is left gravity-less after her mother dies and she is unable to cry. Locked in a tower by her once-kind father, King Darius of Legobel (a bombastic Clive Rowe), she is content to spend her days floating and reading classic stories. But when her brother dies, she is forced by her father to take on his military role in the fight against Legobel’s neighbours, Sealand. Meanwhile over in Sealand, Prince Digby (an excellent Nick Hendrix) is so weighed down by grief following his own beloved mother’s death, that he’s nicknamed the Solemn Prince. Digby is put in charge of Sealand’s army and leads his troops towards Legobel where he easily overcomes the enemy. On his victorious route back he bumps into Althea who was trying to avoid the whole skirmish. And they live happily ever after… or do they?

It’s difficult to imagine The Light Princess being even half as delightful without Rosalie Craig’s wonderful central performance as the weightless Althea. Her singing voice is both powerful and controlled, her solos conveying emotional punch without attention-seeking warbles or showy offy extra notes. And she does a lot of her singing upside down, or ‘floating’ – held up by nothing more than supersonically powerfully-thighed acrobats (the black-clad, silent stars of the show).

The sprinkling of feminism may have felt forced in other environments, but there was a real sincerity and ballsiness to this production. Althea isn’t a ‘strong’ woman because she’s ‘feisty’ and ‘fearless’ – the usual lazy shortcut for a non-doormat woman – these traits weighed her down even if they did render her gravity-less. It was only when she shook them off, shedding heavy tears that released her from her emotional shackles that she felt powerful again.

My main motive behind wanting to see the show was Tori Amos’s score, although this was perhaps the weakest part. Some numbers showed flashes of Amos’s brilliance, but much of the score was repetitive and flat, although lifted by the performers and the excellent and enthusiastic orchestral and the chorus scenes were suitably rousing.

The Light Princess is magical escapism; perfectly snug, heart-warming theatre-fodder for the days before Christmas that ditches (some of) the whimsy of fairy tales of yore for a modern, sassy, inclusive production.

by Suzanne Elliott