1. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
Gone Girl begins with the sudden disappearance of Amy Dunne on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick becomes a prime suspect when the local detectives and the small community learn of his financial dependence on her and her well-off parents. Moreover, his stoic appearance and calm composure on camera is interpreted as a clear image of guilt. As the story unfolds, the narration alternates between Amy’s diary entries from the day she meets Nick to Nick’s present-day accounts after his wife’s mysterious disappearance. With each chapter, our sympathy and allegiance shifts between Nick and Amy. What is the truth? But it turns out that the truth is never quite so simple, and nor does it bring us any comfort. The characters are dangerous and deranged, and their behaviour is disturbingly narcissistic and sociopathic. Yet, Flynn manages to allow the reader to feel a strange sense of empathy towards them. Beneath their deep flaws, there is something about their behaviour as a couple that evokes a visceral response – there is an element of raw humanness about it.
I think that by setting the story in a small, dying Midwest town, Flynn appears to give another reason for the deep flaws of the characters. The economy is down and jobs have been lost. Everything has been ‘hollowed out: businesses and investment, the natural environment, and even morals. The ‘wasteland’ in which the characters live in is a place devoid of any real purpose or meaning.
Gone Girl was a very interesting read and even though I usually stay away from the mystery/crime/thriller genre (no, not for any particular reason), I found it very enjoyable. Definitely a page-turner and well worth the hype.
2. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)
Libby Day, the sole survivor of a horrific family massacre during her childhood, has been playing the role of victim throughout her life. She has lived off the donations made by well-wishers over the years, but as her funds are beginning to dry up, Libby reluctantly accepts an invitation from The Kill Club, a hobbyist group who are obsessed with crimes. The members are convinced in the innocence of her elder brother Ben, and encourage her to gain emotional closure. Their fervent belief in Ben’s innocence leads Libby to question her own testimony – one that provided the damning evidence that sent Ben to prison. Slowly, with the support of the Club, Libby reconnects with people from the past to recreate the events of the night that would change her life forever.
Like Gone Girl, Dark Places relies on different voices, alternating between present-day Libby and the events of 1985 from the main characters. I think that this is probably Flynn’s strongest writing talent – the ability to weave multiple narratives and perspectives together to create multi-faceted characters and a sense of ongoing suspense. Also, in dealing deftly with complex themes such as class, poverty and grief in her writing, Flynn paints an incredibly sympathetic picture of a single-parent family struggling to get by.
Having read Gone Girl first, I must admit that it took me a while to get into Dark Places. I just couldn’t connect with the characters or the setting. Maybe because (if I recall correctly), the fourth wall isn’t broken in Dark Places. However, now that I have finished the two, I think that Dark Places is a little bit better. The social commentary that runs throughout the story and the ending (oh, such a surprise, but so touching) really did it for me.
Looking forward to the 2014 film adaptations for Gone Girl and Dark Places now! 🙂