Category Archives: Gillian Flynn

The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

Those of you who have been following the blog for sometime will know that I was one of the many, many people who were completely gripped and somewhat infatuated with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I liked its spikiness, I liked its darkness and I loved the extremely unlikeable and manipulative hearts of its characters. I like to read a nasty book occasionally, one that exorcises all those thoughts we don’t like to admit to in the safety of our own brains/homes. So naturally I was very excited to learn that a new novella from Gillian, The Grownup, was out – whilst also being rather shocked at how long ago I read Gone Girl and how long I have left Dark Places and Sharp Objects – and so the other night I sat and gobbled it up in a single sitting. Be warned, this post contains adult themes, very ‘grownup’ ones if you will.

9781474603041

Orion Books, 2015, paperback, fiction, 79 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

So starts the tale of our nameless narrator in Gillian Flynn’s novella The Grownup, which started life as the short story What Do You Do? in an anthology for George R. R. Martin. Many of us have often had to make a career change, be it for better prospects, getting away from an awful boss who you hated and wished the ground would swallow up or because your circumstances or skill sets have changed. For our protagonist she has recently had to change jobs for health reasons, so good and skilled is she at giving men hand jobs she has only gone and got carpal tunnel syndrome.

However, whilst her employers don’t have a good occupational health assessment or system, they do have a have a facade out front that hides the secret deeds out front as the shop frontage is that of a fortune teller and psychic. So rather than be penniless she turns her hand (as it were) to reading peoples body languages in a different way and telling them their futures, or in some cases simply what they want to hear. One day Susan Burke turns up, a woman new to the city who has moved into a house with her husband, step son and son, yet the house it seems doesn’t want them there and is seemingly channelling its energy through one of the members of the family. Initially our heroine (of sorts) doesn’t believe her, until she goes to the house itself.

It lurked. It was the only remaining Victorian house in a long row of boxy new construction, and maybe that’s why it seemed alive, calculating…

I really, really enjoyed The Grownup. From the off I was initially dragged in by the fact that it is a bit saucy and rude which we all like from time to time. As it goes on though the depths and layers of the story grab you all the more. Within the matter of a few pages, as with Gone Girl, you are instantly drawn into the world of someone you aren’t sure if you really like or really don’t. What you do very quickly know is that either way you want to know how this person’s story will unfold and enjoy guessing (often wrongly) as to what the outcome will be along the way. I think Flynn’s ability to get into these complex and multi-faceted characters, good or bad, was superb in Gone Girl. I think the fact she does it in mere pages here is marvellous and she should be given a huge amount of credit for that and not just her twisting plots, especially as this is all done in less than 80 pages from start to finish.

The other thing I really like about Gillian Flynn’s writing is her sense of humour and her snarkiness. I am quite a fan of snark, if it is handled correctly and people know you’re being snarky and not just a bit of an arsehole, for there is a thin line. I think Flynn has a way of giving that wry dark humour and wit that treads the path very finely and made me giggle, sometimes inappropriately, as I read on. I also loved the fact that The Grownup is also a story about stories and some of those brilliant stories that walk the line between supernatural thriller and suspenseful mystery.

The only thing I really knew about Mike was he loved books. He recommended books with the fervour I’ve always craved as an aspiring nerd: with urgency and camaraderie. You have to read this! Pretty soon we have our own private (occasionally sticky) book club. He was big into “Classic Stories of the Supernatural” and he wanted me to be too (“You are a psychic after all,” he said with a smile). So that way we discussed the themes of loneliness and need in The Haunting of Hill House, he came, I sani-wiped myself and grabbed his loaner for next time: The Woman in White. (“You have to read this! It’s one of the all-time best.”)

What makes The Grownup so wonderfully twisty, as I was hoping it would be, is not just the brilliant and rather warped plot but also the fact that this story often sits in that no man’s land between supernatural thriller and amateur sleuthing. In parts you are wondering if this is a ghost story, at other moments you feel like this could be the tale of a murderous blood bath waiting to happen. What you get might end up being neither, it could be something much trickier and darker. I don’t want to give anything away so I will stop right there thank you very much.

I will simply end by saying that if you like a book with a gothic sensibility, a hint of the supernatural, a murderous intent and a questionable narrator at its heart then you need to grab a copy of this. The Grownup is a perfect short burst of escapism pitch perfect for the darker nights as they draw in. I really, really enjoyed it.

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Filed under Gillian Flynn, Orion Publishing, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

One thing I really love and admire from a writer is when they give us a familiar scenario and manage to completely turn it on its head or take it apart analyse it and rework it into something quite unfamiliar. Deborah Levy’s ‘Swimming Home’ did this for me early in the year with an initially formulaic idea of a middle class holiday and the arrival of a stranger, now Gillian Flynn has done it with a brilliantly written thriller based on a missing spouse with ‘Gone Girl’. No surprise then that both of these books will easily be sitting high up on my list of books of the year without a shadow of a doubt.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2012, fiction, 416 pages, borrowed from the library

‘Gone Girl’ opens with Nick Dunne telling us how on their fifth wedding anniversary, after a call from the neighbours, goes home to find the door wide open, the lounge smashed up and his wife Amy missing. Soon the police become involved and, as Amy was made infamous in her youth through her parents’ novels featuring the ‘Amazing Amy’, there is a county and soon nationwide interest and search into her disappearance. This is all quite familiar but the first, of many, clever tricks which Gillian Flynn throws into this book is the fact that as we get the story in the present from Nick, we alternately start to read the diary entries from Amy at the start of their relationship.

These diary entries initially start with all the joy and romance of her initial meeting with Nick, her dismay when he vanishes for a while and elation when he comes back. As their relationship goes on it really is all perfect, that is until his parents separately fall ill, Nick and Amy both get made redundant, spend most of her trust fund and wind up living in Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri. This is not a place Amy wants to be and as she writes she tells of her feelings of alienation and that Nick might be buckling under the pressure, and a darker side of her husband is revealed.

The stories start to converge as Nick continues to narrate his version of events in the present and as the police and the public start to cast a suspicious eye on him. Yet as the stories start to meet nothing one spouse is saying about the other quite matches and what really happened is full of twist after twist after twist after twist.

I won’t say anymore about the plot for fear of spoiling anything, and you do want to go into ‘Gone Girl’ knowing as little as possible to be honest. I will say that I think this is one of the best books that I have read all year. I have certainly been completely bowled over by Gillian Flynn’s writing, and not just for incredible and complex plotting, which she makes seem effortless as we read, also for the way in which the world that Nick and Amy inhabit is so vivid and how real they become. I felt I followed their story from young loves dream to rather disillusioned marriage as if I was one of their acquaintances, even when the stories didn’t match which is all the more clever.

I also liked the little intricate bits of them and their marriage was wonderfully done. I thought the back story of ‘Amazing Amy’ was brilliant and how that would affect someone. The issue of cancer and Alzheimer’s which Nick’s parents raise as well as redundancy and the death of the city and the small town were both current and completely believable. The whole world of this novel worked, which is why I couldn’t just label this book as simply a thriller, it is so much more than that.

As you can probably tell I could enthuse about ‘Gone Girl’, and indeed Gillian Flynn’s writing of it, endlessly. I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

Who else has read ‘Gone Girl’ and (without spoilers) what did you think? Have you read any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels and if so which ones should I be reading next? I have to admit though the urge to go and get them both now is very, very strong.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Gillian Flynn, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson