Monthly Archives: September 2014

This review may contain (inadvertent) spoilers.

Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood.

– Tony Kushner, ‘The Illusion’ (epigraph from Gone Girl)

I originally bought this novel for a friend of mine, part of a sort of thirtieth-birthday book exchange. Having just finished Gone Girl (two days at the beach doing little else) I now can’t wait for my friend to read it. This is one of those novels that leave you needing to tease out your feelings through conversation; writing just won’t cut it. Gone Girl had me hooked (as a bestseller should), unsettled, and – in the end – not quite sure how to react.

Gone Girl is, it seems, the novel of the hour – stacked up front on bookshop shelves, one of the first novels my Kindle recommends, the subject of book club discussions. It is tricky to write about Gone Girl without spoilers, but I will do my best (apologies in advance if there are any). Nick Dunne’s wife Amy Elliott-Dunne – the subject of the fictional Amazing Amy series of books, written by her psychologist parents – goes missing on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. It is revealed early on in the story that the marriage was unravelling, and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect in Amy’s disappearance. There is something obviously off about Nick, but Amy is also a suspicious character (the novel is told from the dual perspectives of these two unreliable narrators).

Flynn’s book is a psychological thriller, a crime novel, but it is also a little more than that. Gone Girl is an intelligent and chilling exploration of love and relationships; an investigation of selfishness, and what men and women will do to each other – for themselves.

I liked (and was pleasantly surprised by, given that I was expecting a one dimensional thriller) the complexity and intelligence of Flynn’s writing. Gone Girl was largely unpredictable up until the end, a testament to Flynn’s careful plotting (which apparently she does serial killer style in her basement). The attention given to the dark side of love (exemplified in the perfectly chosen epigraph from Tony Kushner), and the refusal to present a clear hero or villain also appealed to me as a reader. Gone Girl (and this is something of a spoiler, I suppose) is a tragedy; the sort of complicated, inevitable, inextricable kind of tragedy that is – dare I say it – almost Shakespearean in nature.

It’s difficult to talk about what I didn’t like about this novel, as my feelings about it are so uncertain. I did find it hard to really sympathise with any of the characters; I found both Amy and Nick – almost from the beginning – largely unlikeable, although they were still compelling subjects. Throughout the novel my reactions to Nick and Amy oscillated wildly: I began with an indifference/vague dislike towards both of them, which then shifted to a hatred of Nick, then to a new respect for Amy, then to a sort of fear of Amy and a twinge of sympathy for Nick, and finally a sickening terror and disappointment toward both of them (hopefully this little emotional map isn’t too much of a plot giveaway!) This strange fluctuation of feeling did leave me feeling at a sort of distance from the story, and I wasn’t particularly sad to leave the people I was reading about once the book was done (it was, in some ways, a relief to reach the end). I’m also somewhat undecided about how to interpret the presentation of women in this novel. Flynn is obviously very aware of feminism, and the women in her novel are very strong, but (spoiler alert) it must be admitted that Amy (the female protagonist) is extremely unlikeable.

Overall, I enjoyed the questions Gone Girl brought up, as well as the ride the story took me on. Flynn’s novel is well written, suspenseful, and (for the most part) unpredictable. And while Gone Girl did leave me feeling a little bleak, it also filled me with the urge to talk (and write) about it, which must be a good thing.

Gone Girl, published in 2012, is Gillian Flynn’s third novel. Her previous books are titled Sharp Objects and Dark Places. A film version of Gone Girl (directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) is due to be released in October of this year.


Recently I’ve been listening to a podcast called Books on the Nightstand, a weekly half hour of reviews and general book-related discussion. It was here that I heard about Megan Abbott’s novel The Fever, and downloaded it to my tablet. Living in Cambodia it’s difficult (and expensive) to buy new-release books like this ‘in the flesh’; with a tablet, however, it’s almost too easy. I’m always just one click away from the next book – great for my reading selection, not so great for my bank account. The Fever is the first work of fiction I’ve read in digital-mode, and to be honest at no point did I wish I was holding pages instead of a screen. It did take me a little while to get into this novel (I’m blaming the choppy, dreamy reading experience that comes with airline travel), but once I reached the half-way point I was mystified and engrossed – I had to know what would happen next. While the end felt a little lacking, overall The Fever is well written and suspenseful.

Abbott’s novel was inspired by a recent outbreak of strange symptoms among high-school girls in the town of Le Roy in upstate New York. Around eighteen girls experienced muscle spasms, involuntary movements, and other symptoms similar to Tourette syndrome (see two of the girls interviewed on Today here). Doctors concluded that the teens were suffering from a combination of psychological conditions, the first being conversion disorder, which occurs when emotional trauma or anxiety manifests as physical symptoms. The second condition doctors identified was mass psychological illness (MPI), otherwise known as mass hysteria (read more about the Le Roy case here). Some parents (and their daughters) were unhappy with this diagnosis, stating that the girls weren’t under any stress when their illnesses arose. However, many of them had been through traumatic experiences in the recent past. Even if the mind is not conscious of stress, according to psychologists, it can still produce bodily symptoms of anxiety.

The Fever shares a lot of similarities with the Le Roy case. In Abbott’s novel about eighteen girls are affected by mysterious seizures and tics, and many of them have suffered family trauma. As with Le Roy, water pollution is a suspected cause of the symptoms, and both social media and news coverage of the outbreak seem to result in more girls getting sick. The Fever focuses mainly on the Nash family – Tom, a chemistry teacher, and his two high school age children: his son Eli, a handsome hockey player, and his daughter Deenie, whose best friend Lise is the first to be afflicted by ‘the fever’ in a very public and violent manner. While the ending of the novel partly reflects the Le Roy outcome, it also presents an interesting and unexpected twist.

I enjoyed reading this book partly for the writing itself at a sentence level. The language Abbott uses is clear and simple, but effective. She also creates a wonderfully eerie atmosphere through her use of description and metaphor; in this novel, tone is everything (I still can’t get the image of a teenage girl with white hair bent over a rabbit cage out of my mind). What I really loved about The Fever, however, was the mystery at the heart of it. The deeper into this novel I got the more baffled I was, and the more intrigued. I had no idea how Abbott was going to pull all the threads of the story together, and I had to find out.

My biggest criticism of this novel is its ending. The twist was surprising, and felt right, but after the climax things went a little flat for a chapter or so. I wanted a bit more of an explanation; or I wanted that spooky feeling to continue so that I would be left wondering, covered in goose bumps (and possibly experiencing tics), my imagination creating its own explanations.

Overall, while this novel could have explored its issues a little more deeply (especially in terms of MPI and the effect of social media), I found it a very enjoyable read.

Megan Abbott is the author of seven novels, including The Fever and Dare Me. The Fever was published in 2014.