Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Fistful of Reads 2015: Gone Girl


Alright, so March is over and I've read another book!  This time it's Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  I know, I know, it's about time...but before we get into my thoughts on the book, here are the links for the month.  

So, no one actually sent me a link this month for books reviewed, but we always know that Irene is good for a few, so head on over to her site to see reviews for Big Little Lies, The Girl on the Train and Sharp Objects.

And now for mine:



It’s hard to know how to review this book.  Because I’ve already seen the film, and absolutely loved it, I’m not sure how to separate the two, since the aspects of the film that struck me so strongly are aspects changed from the source, and while they share a common core, this is one of those instances where the film is better than the movie.

That does not mean that this is a bad book, like at all.  It was thoroughly entertaining and really well written, from a storytelling perspective, and the themes addressed and characters explored are really well designed and explained, but for reasons I’ll get into in a moment, I felt like the restraints placed on storytelling from a cinematic medium served this story well; very well.

The story told is one that is hard to explain without spoiling anything pertinent to the overall experience, but I will assure you of this, whether you have seen the film or not, but novel is still wholly enjoyable, even with the big ‘twist’ revealed (and visa-versa, since I knew the twist before seeing the film and it was still extremely effective).  Still, I’d hate to be the one to spoil anything, so I’ll just say this; Flynn’s story is that of a troubled marriage that is shaken to the core when the wife, Amy, winds up missing on the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary.  Nick, her husband, is left to piece together what happened, an apparent struggle and what looks like abduction written all over his home, and yet eventually clues left behind place him in the hot seat when he is perceived to be the guilty party.  What follows is a superbly conceived, yet not always superbly crafted, tale of marital unraveling and a rather astute take on the relationships that bind us.

So, here is the long and the short of it; Gillian Flynn did herself and her story a massive favor when she gutted out the unnecessary, cut down on the obvious and altered, if ever so slightly, that ending.  I remember all the talk about the script changes when the film was in production, and many fans of the book were concerned about what the finished product would be.  What about the ending!?!?  I heard she made changes!!!!  What about Nick!?!?!  I heard he’s more sympathetic in the movie!!!!  Yes on both accounts and yet I’m so glad that she did.  During the whole awards run last year (where Flynn was disgustingly snubbed the Oscar nom for her tremendous screenplay), there was an interview with Flynn where she talked about adapting her own work, and she noted that as a screenwriter you need to take out all bias to your work and understand that not everything will fit into the confines of a film.  You have to take out things, things you may love.  You have to alter scenes to make them flow better within the scope of a film.  Not everything has room to breathe like it does on the page, when you can always add another page of explanation to make the last one make sense.  And so, with that in mind, Flynn got to work making ‘Gone Girl’ more cinematic, and in the process she made amendments that only helped bolster those core themes. 

Sure, some characters suffered (Andie and Nick’s father most notably) and yet others were saved altogether (surprisingly, Desi works far better on film than on the printed page, and I was not the character’s biggest supporter when I first saw the film), but the most important thing here is that the core characters, Amy and Nick, are given more depth in the choices Flynn made with her screenplay.

My biggest issue with the book itself is that Nick and Amy, in many moments, feel like broad caricatures.  Yes, there is a lot of ‘extreme’ going on here, and the satirical nature of the way this story is told needs that, but on the printed page I felt like Flynn went almost too heavy with ‘on the nose’ references to set up these characters.  So much of what Amy but especially Nick were thinking made them feel like contradictions at times, and while I love the fact that these characters feel like victims and villains in almost a single breath, there is an absoluteness to some of what Flynn does here that laces these characters with a detachment I didn’t feel in the film.

With the right amount of restraint, the right amount of subtlety (this book is far from subtle), Flynn was able to turn broad caricatures into living breathing representations of you and me and everyone we know.

But this is where I feel like my coming at this from this particular vantage point is skewed or manipulated because of how much I loved the movie and, more specifically WHY I loved the movie.  For me, Fincher’s film said so much about marriage that we don’t often acknowledge, about the way that we manipulate relationships through lies and the way that we detach ourselves from others due to our reaction to discovering who these people really are.  While Flynn’s novel says those same things, it does so with a more definite hand, with a louder voice, and because of that it feels a little too…contrived.

With that said, I still wholly loved this read.  It’s an extremely well written book in that it completely immerses you in the story, and Flynn’s writing style (and the brilliant way she constructed the book) is so unique and says so much about her talent.  She is a gem of a writer, and even more than a novelist, she’s a superb screenwriter, which is almost harder to do.

So read the book and see the movie, in whichever order you would like, because they are both worth experiencing for what they bring to the table.

18 comments:

  1. Brilliant post! I love the way you compared the book and film.

    I read the book long before the movie came out. I appreciated the quality of the writing and the narrative voice (can Flynn rock the unreliable narrator convention or what?!? :-) ) There were also so many smart, memorable quotes. (I was copying them like crazy.) I loved the satirical aspect of the story. I discussed that a bit in my review of the movie. (http://mysteriousbibliophile.blogspot.com/2014/10/film-review-gone-girl-mild-spoilers.html)

    That said -- like you -- I enjoyed the film more. I haven't analyzed the reasons, as you have, but Rosamund Pike's performance is a big factor. ;-)

    Thanks for the links! I hope you get more participation in A Fistful of Reads.

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    1. This book is so, so quotable!

      Yeah, I love the satire here, which is also present in the film and yet dulled because the air in the film is far more...eerily calming. The book is, surprisingly, more absurd which makes it's satirical nature is stronger or more notable there.

      I'll check out your review soon!

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  2. Nice write up! I read the book before seeing the film, so I didn't see the big reveal coming at all. I really loved the book and how the story progressed. I didn't mind the changes in the movie except one; I wish we could've had "You have to wake up every day and still be you" line in there because that was perfect. I hope you check out Flynn's other novels too. They're great.

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    1. That was my favorite line in the book! I even tweeted that to Sati when I finished the novel. I was pleased with the change in the movie to switch all that "I'm that bitch" talk to "I'm that cunt" because, well, it sounds nastier and more impactful!

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    2. Oh, and I picked up both of her other books, so I'm going to try and fit them in this year :-D

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  3. Interesting... I read the book first and definitely preferred it to the film. I wonder though, how I would have felt about the film had I NOT read the book first. So much hinges on the big twist/reveal halfway through. Anyway, I still thought the film was good, but thought Fincher was trying to bring EVERYTHING out of Flynn's novel and put it on screen, resulting in a bit of tonal whiplash/misfire. I thought the media satire worked far better onscreen than in the book, but the thriller aspect and certainly the characters worked better in the book. Specifically, I thought Nick and Amy's marriage was much better drawn in the book. I also think all of the flaws in Desi's character were magnified onscreen - although the sequence at his house is easily the high point of the film and an improvement on the book. Flynn really did a spectacular job of adapting her own work. I've had a draft sitting on my blog about it - and adaptation in general - for ages but haven't been able to finish it to my satisfaction. Maybe it's time to revisit it...

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    1. Oh, and the end of the book is PERFECT, but there's no way to do that onscreen. "I just wanted to have the last word." PERFECTION. I thought the film's ending worked really well. Stayed true enough to the book and also remained its own thing.

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    2. I had such a different reaction. I actually felt, especially now after reading the book, that Fincher was very selective in what to bring in and what to leave out, or I should say that BOTH Fincher and Flynn were selective, and it paid off.

      But like you say, I wonder what my reaction would have been had I read the book first, instead of see the film first...

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    3. I agree that they were selective about what to include in the film, but it felt to me like everything was given nearly equal weight, which resulted in tonal confusion. The various themes, which fit together so well in the book, often seemed like they were fighting each other for dominance in the film. But again, that's just me, and could very likely have something to do with my having read the book first.

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    4. Yeah, I do think that a lot of perception of book/film has to do with what you see/read first.

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  4. Excellent review without giving anything away. I saw the movie but have not read the book. I heard the main guy (Ben Affleck's character) is less likeable in the book. The author has a great way of viewing the difference between writing the book and writing the screenplay

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    1. Flynn's handling of her material for the big screen was remarkable.

      In the book, Nick is less likable, but it's so on the nose in parts, so blatant, that he's not really unlikable because he doesn't feel real.

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  5. Well I cannot agree with this. As much as I adored the movie, I found Fincher's interpretation to be borderline mysoginistic with demonizing Amy far worse than Flynn ever did and making Nick into 'oh poor Nick' while in the book there was so much nuance to his character, specifically with his fear of becoming like hi father and his temper. If those characters were ever caricatures it was only in Fincher's hands, not Flynn's. I cannot believe that she allowed him to simplify these characters so bad. The ending is far far worse in the movie than in the book.

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    1. I wasn't sure how you'd feel about this. I did really enjoy this. I mean, as a reading experience, it was great. That being said, I think like Daniel said, having seen the movie first may have colored things for me a bit different. I found so many nuances in the movie, especially in Nick's character, that I did not see in the book. I felt like there were too many moments were detailing of these characters were so on-the-nose and abrasive that they felt, as I said, like caricatures. Stripping away Nick's inner monologue of "I don't want to be like my father but I hate all these bitches", for me at least, gave Nick an air of authenticity. I understood him. But, as my review for the film stated, I responded to this film and story from a different place, since I saw it as such a richly textured exploration of marriage and all the areas within marriage that so few want to address. Sure, it's over the top, but it's actually grounded in something real. I just felt like the film was more effective in that.

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  6. Great review! I read the book before watching the movie and thought that they complimented each other. Not everything on page can be translated on screen so reading the book might be a plus. Flynn adapted her novel quite well, keeping the essence even with the changes.

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    1. Yeah, they really are complimentary, which I like. Different, but both very good and, like I said, I highly recommend watching the film and reading the book!

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  7. Excellent review man! The film didn't hold up very well for me on a second look (A- to a B), but I do want to check out the book.

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    1. Yeah, I noticed that in all the comments on you CinSpec Awards page. I've seen it twice and was enthralled both times...and to be honest, reading the book made me appreciate the film more.

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