Beyond Gone Girl: The Gillian Flynn You Should Read Next
Everyone has heard of Gone Girl, and many have read it. (No, seeing the movie does not count, you heathens.) No doubt, it drew the public’s attention to Gillian Flynn and her impressive talent, even though opinion of that novel and the protagonist Amy Dunne was polarizing. I personally loved it (I talk about my thoughts on Gone Girl here), but I can also understand why some people didn’t.
Luckily for me, I loved it enough to seek out more of Flynn’s work. I listened to the audiobook of Dark Places and thought, “Holy crap. This is even better than Gone Girl.” Then I moved on to Sharp Objects, which is even better than Dark Places. Then I read Flynn’s short story, “The Grownup,” because by now she’s made me a big enough fan to read anything she publishes.
Since I’m so grateful that I didn’t stop with Gone Girl, I thought I’d take a moment today to examine Flynn’s other works, highlighting why I liked them and which ones fans/detractors might like should they also test the dark, mysterious waters beyond Gone Girl.
Unquestionably, Sharp Objects is my favorite of Flynn’s works so far. I raced through this one, absolutely consumed by it, and to be honest, I think it’s far superior to the more popular Gone Girl. (And remember: I love Gone Girl.)
Flynn’s writing style and authorial voice is consistent through all four of her published works, so if you didn’t like the prose in Gone Girl, Flynn likely isn’t for you. But if you were on board with her style and the dark, often biting tone of her work, you’ll enjoy all of them. After reading just one of Flynn’s books, her voice becomes easily recognizable. In all of her works we find recurrences of human depravity, sexism and gender roles, how backstory makes a character, secrets, mysteries, and, of course, Flynn’s narrators' often bitter but always on-point commentary, spiced with descriptions both apt and unsettling.
What made Sharp Objects stand out to me was the protagonist. Camille Preaker is a seriously disturbed young reporter sent back to her hometown to cover some recent murders. But the plot isn’t what draws this book along – it’s fairly straightforward and refreshingly streamlined – it’s Camille. Although she’s psychologically damaged and more than a little flawed, I found myself absolutely pulling for her throughout the novel. She’s an excellent example of how a character can be utterly compelling without necessarily being likable. She’s no Amy Dunne, though; Camille is hard to read because she’s a victim, not a victimizer, and even her best attempts at personal strength seem weak in the face of what she’s come home to.
For me, Dark Places ranks above Gone Girl but below Sharp Objects. Since it deals with a family murder and the surviving child, Libby Day (don’t worry; that’s on the back cover), it’s arguably the darkest of all of Flynn’s novels. Somehow, though, it ended up feeling the opposite to me. Perhaps because most of the book is told by Libby as an adult, looking back, and Libby has near-surgically sealed herself off from that traumatic history, I ended up feeling distant from it as well. Strangely, that felt like a bit of a relief. Flynn’s work can be so dark and intense that I was grateful for the opportunity to catch my breath, even though it did make for a slightly less powerful story than it might have otherwise.
If you didn’t care for Gone Girl because Amy Dunne was intolerable, you probably won’t care for Dark Places either. Although Libby is a victim, she’s become so jaded and warped in her adulthood that she’s only slightly more likable than Amy. But if what knocked you out of the running with Gone Girl was the believability factor, I found Dark Places to be the most realistic feeling of Flynn’s novels.
And lastly, we come to Flynn’s stand-alone short story “The Grownup.” This is my least favorite of the four, but, if you love Flynn as much as I do, it's still well worth reading. If you’re not already a fan, though, I wouldn’t recommend it — and I certainly don’t recommend starting here. I will say that the ending was slightly unsatisfying in its open-endedness and it left me with the impression that it was the beginning of an unfinished novel, not a short story intended to be a short story.
That said, if you love Flynn and can’t wait for her next novel, “The Grownup” is a great way to tide yourself over. It boasts the strongest example of Flynn’s fantastic ‘voice,’ right from the opening line. Its protagonist was classic Flynn: a bitter, oddly endearing and fully grating, nuanced female narrator. It comes the closest of her work to dabbling in the supernatural, and was certainly a fun read. It’s so twisty-turny that at times I wished it would chill the hell out, but, still, I was riveted to the end and would happily read it again.
Where does that leave us? Well, if you absolutely hated Gone Girl you probably just don’t care for Gillian Flynn, but if you almost liked it, wanted to like it, or genuinely loved it, I’d recommend giving her another try with Sharp Objects. If you’re on board with that, head on over to Dark Places. If by then you’re a fan, why not top it off with “The Grownup”? Each of her works has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all of them are compelling and bursting with talent, and really, what more can you ask for?
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