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Donkin's World: Gone Girl

"You should read the book and make up your own mind. To ignore it, if you belong to the chattering classes, is to risk social isolation at Saturday dinner parties,'' writes Richard Donkin of the novel Gone Girl.

If you were foolish enough to fall for the hype around the trashy Fifty Shades of Grey last year, you could be forgiven the temptation to cold shoulder Gone Girl, this year's publishing sensation. But that would be a mistake. It's a well written if ultimately, for me at least, dissatisfying read.

But if you read it, you will read it. It's not a book to put down and you'll positively hoover up the words, wincing slightly at a grating Americanism and that all too common misuse of the Latin idiom in tandem (so common that a simple "together" meaning, seems to be acceptable these days among all but the most pedantic of readers). It still bugs me.

You'll read Gone Girl, once begun, because you'll want to find out what happens next. It's that kind of a book. You're unlikely to feel any great empathy for the characters - hardly any of them - except to feel sorry for them as they try and usually fail to understand and deal with the great she monster -she who has gone - whose story dominates the narrative.

It's a mystery of sorts. Loose ends are scattered like seed in a chicken pen and all have been pecked over and digested by the end. With difficulty, I tried to overlay Christopher Booker's seven basic plots and while "overcoming the monster" is dominant there's also some rags to riches, voyage and return, tragedy, rebirth and, some might argue (not me), comedy.

If you've read anything about this book - and it's been hard to avoid the momentum it's gathered - you will have noted that it's all about relationships. Girly stuff, then. Yes, and no. Men will be just as compelled as women in the reading.

But, and here's the point I want to make, will they be bubbling with chatter down the pub about it afterwards? I don't think so. They will be repelled by the monster; that's a given. And they will feel nothing but shame for the man in the story. This is my problem. He's poorly conceived and behaves unlike any man I know or have ever known.

If Gillian Flynn, the author, can do great plot, she can't do great men. One of her best male characters, the lawyer, is a stereotype in the mould of Saul Goodman, the sleazeball in Breaking Bad. That's fair enough; but the husband in Gone Girl is pathetic. Perhaps that was Flynn's intention. If so, that's a shame because it steers the book in to the overladen feminist text genre.

Perhaps this is carping too much. You should read the book and make up your own mind. To ignore it, if you belong to the chattering classes, is to risk social isolation at Saturday dinner parties. How else can you steer the conversation away from North Korea, the weather and the future of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in a classless society? Gone Girl can sink the lot of them. But you have to read it first, right up to its incredible ending.


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