What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
About a month ago, I smashed through Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a few days. I came away from the book feeling dirty: sullied somehow. My first words to my partner were, “I think I need a shower.” It’s hard to define why this is. I enjoyed reading the book. I was hooked the entire time, utterly engrossed in this deep character study of two seriously messed up people. The book was very well-written, a literary thriller of the first degree, and mesmerising in its wit and structure. The book was funny, at times, too.
We’ve become obsessed with the villain. From Mad Men to Breaking Bad to House of Cards, an outsider might be well within their rights to say that ‘douchebag is the new cool.’ But where these TV shows present villains well outside the realms of possibility and plausibility for most of us – by virtue of their concerning drug cartels, the world of 1960s advertising or the inner workings of American politics – Gone Girl does something very different. Gillian Flynn puts the villain in bed next to you.
That said, I have a concern with people saying that the book made them question their relationships. This was a thought that never crossed my mind the whole time I was reading the book. The characters are so unreal, so malevolent, so vicious, that I found it hard to equate that with people in my own life. What Flynn does, though, is make strange the things we tend to take for granted. You might look twice at the seemingly blissfully happy couple, the athletic, all-American alpha male, or the so-called ‘cool girl.’ And that’s an intriguing, and profound, achievement for a popular work of fiction.
I saw David Fincher’s film adaptation of the novel yesterday. For an adaptation, it remains very close to the source. This is probably due to the screenplay being written by Flynn herself. The narrative propels forward at quite a pace, which is unsettling given Fincher’s characteristic languor and the air of tension provided by Reznor and Ross’s spectacular soundtrack. The crystal clear digital imagery is graded a sickly green, as though the story itself is mouldy, rotten, and falling apart. The central performances are staggeringly good: Affleck and Pike deserve accolade upon accolade.
After the film, though, like the book, I was left feeling off. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking. I felt like I needed tea and a long stare into the middle distance. I’d hoped this writing here would help untangle some of the confusion, but it’s proved fruitless. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point of both book and film – the point of this bizarre story of small-town America and the darkness beneath – is that there is no resolution, for the narrative or the audience. There is certainly no happy ending.
I remember thinking that the book felt very timely, with references to social media, the global financial crisis, and so on. Both book and film feel very current, and I think that part of that currency is this confusion, this uncertainty, this faint feeling of nausea, like we’re losing parts of ourselves in society, materialism, and losing our humanity, our capacity for love and compassion, in the process.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I cracked it.