Monday, June 10, 2013

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Mind games that people play

Gillian Flynn's diabolically ingenious 'Gone Girl' begins as , on their fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne reports that his wife Amy has gone missing. According to him, he had seen her in the morning, but by forenoon she is missing with signs in the house that point to a struggle.  Right from this beginning to the end of the first part, the novel is an intoxicating mix of dissemination and dissembling, (seemingly) random clues thrown casually (are they actually random or even a clue or are they red herrings), by Nick the narrator of the first part who "lies by omission" (dissembling) but hints at it, thereby allowing us, the reader not trust him completely him right from the beginning. Interleaved with his narrative are pages of Amy's diary which act as an counterpoint to Nick's musings about his married life.

Amy, whose parents have been in love  for ever, clinical psychologists who have even written a (once upon a time) highly successful series about a perfect kid "amy". Nick, brought up by his mother who doted on him after a divorce from her husband who was not a utterly evil man but basically a MCP. Divergent backgrounds, affluence, they may not have been (?) the perfect match as far as familial backgrounds, but their personalities seemed to match and they were happily married, "were" being the key word here. As the narrative progresses and we learn more about their lives we tend to see it as 2 ways, as either the worst match made in heaven or the best match made in hell. It is all just perception as Nick/Amy take turns in their battle of emotional manipulation to manipulate not just each other but us the readers too. The adage "nothing is what as it seems" fits perfectly here. 

The first part does take a bit of time to conclude, but Flynn ends it just as we start getting antsy of the proceedings and blows the story open. Yes, the revelation at this point can be guessed (even if not fully, but partially), and the readers looks forward to the remainder of the novel with a bit of smugness and worry. Smug because, he feels good at his prediction coming true, worry because he does not know what more can happen and how can the author hold his interest after this. Worry not, because the books takes on an extra, no multiple extra gears at this point and probes the deepest depths of  manipulative human behavior and the mind games that people play to control others, a game that is so subtle that you could be sucked into it without knowing that you are part of game.  The truth (or the only truth that we can be fairly sure about at is) is that this is game where the puppet can also becomes the puppeteer sometimes, roles interchanging, but not without the characters giving in without a fight.

At one level this is a straight forward mystery novel,  at another a psychological thriller and at yet another level this is also a story of modern dysfunctional relationships. Just assume what would happen if say, the characters of Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" descended one level deeper into the morass that is their relationship. This is how close 'Gone Girl' is us and this is what makes the novel truly horrific. The actual events and mind games are in themselves potent enough to take your breath, but the truly scary thing here is the motivation behind the actions of the characters, motivations which show to us the depth to which one can go when one craves control beyond (if any) acceptable limits. One may not actually do what the characters in the novel do to each other, but a lot of us would surely identify behind the rationale of the characters and it is indeed a sobering thought that we of the 'civilized' society are capable of such nefarious mind games. The power of media is an important component of the novel, Flynn showing how much more important it is these days for any accused to look good in the media (print/visual) before actually worrying about the case. As one character says, the jury these days cannot be isolated for ever, not in these days of  internet. Irrespective of who the jury is going to be (indeed before even a case of filed), you need to look good in front of the media. The media, in both its professional (newspapers, tv shows) and amateur (blogs, facebook, twitter) forms have to absolve you first. Actually what I am saying is wrong, these days it doesn't seem to matter what the jury/court says, if the media decides to crucify you, you are done for. 

For all it's brilliance, the final move in this mind game (before the ending) let me down. It isn't that it is a lazy, hastily thought out one, it is actually done clinically with clues thrown earlier in the novel. The problem here is that the move goes against the grain of everything that the person who makes the move stands for. It is quite a stretch to accept or even imagine that such a person would make such a move, but still it is not so jarring as to undo the entire novel. It is with a mix of soberness and voyeuristic hope that we end the novel, sober at the actions of people who are ready to do any bad to each other, hope because there is a strong possibility of a sequel here and we are voyeur enough to be ready for it. But whether a sequel happens or not, I am going to be looking out for Flynn's earlier works and other future works. 2 excellent crime fiction novels in 3 days, this has been a good period of crime me, my homicidal barometer should be quite high now though.

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