Thoughts on two bestsellers: Gone Girl and Hyperbole and a Half

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

2012. Crown. Hardcover. 419 pages.

I wasn’t originally planning on reading Gone Girl, thanks to a review that had compared it to Tana French’s In the Woods, a book that I disliked and abandoned more than halfway through. But my co-worker and I, pressured by the near-ubiquitous presence of Gone Girl, decided to read it in December, to find out what everyone was talking about. Unlike with French’s book, I finished Gone Girl. I brought it with me when I went to get new tires for my car, so that helped.

For those who don’t know, Gone Girl is the story of married couple Nick and Amy, and this story is told in alternating first-person narratives by each spouse. Nick’s narrative starts the day that Amy mysteriously disappears from their home in Missouri. Amy’s narrative takes the form of diary entries which start the day Amy first met Nick in New York City. Both Nick and Amy are unlikable people who are trying, for various reasons, to convince the reader that they are at least a better person than their spouse.

Flynn’s writing is similar to French’s in a way. Both have a writing style that is almost aggressively descriptive. In Flynn’s case, since I haven’t read her other books, this style may be attributed to the fact that both of her narrating characters consider themselves writers. An excerpt:

Mainly, I will admit, I smile because he’s gorgeous. Distractingly gorgeous, the kind of looks that make your eyes pinwheel, that make you just want to address the elephant – “You know you’re gorgeous, right?” – and move on with the conversation. I bet dudes hate him: He looks like the rich-boy villain in an ’80’s teen movie – the one who bullies the sensitive misfit, the one who will end up with a pie in the puss, the whipped cream wilting his upturned collar as everyone in the cafeteria cheers. [p. 13]

The writing is sharp and often great at capturing the less savory aspects of the human character; at the same time, the unrelenting pile-on of thick description sometimes made me say internally “Enough, already.”

The story itself is twisty and both narrators are not reliable – not a spoiler, as it is clear early on that Nick is omitting key facts from his side of the story and Amy’s optimistic writing persona cannot mask an underlying disdain for other people. When news of Amy’s disappearance makes national headlines, Gone Girl turns its lens on that roller-coaster ride that is the media circus. Characters quickly realize that the media cares less about the real truth than about what looks like the truth – that is, the easy story.

While reading Gone Girl, I puzzled over its huge success. I found it a solid thriller, but wasn’t sure what made it rise to the top of the heap. But it’s all in the love-it-or-hate-it ending. What follows is a spoiler only if you don’t want to know whether it’s a happy or unhappy ending: basically, Flynn imagined the worst thing that could happen to one of her characters and then delivered it at the end. I appreciated what she did there, but was neither bowled over by it, or angry about it.

I’m glad I read it because it’s a bestseller and lots of people have been talking about it and now I have an opinion on it, ready to trot out in hypothetical future discussions. And it was an interesting book, and it certainly passed my time at the car dealership. I can see why people really enjoyed it. I will probably go see the movie – I think Rosamunde Pike will make a great Amy but I’m afraid the filmmakers will try to make Nick a better person because Ben Affleck is playing him. Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings should be fantastic.

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened by Allie Brosh

2013. Simon & Schuster. Paperback. 369 pages.

Like many people, I’m a fan of Allie Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half. I think “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult” was the first post I read of hers, and I promptly read all of her archive and then subscribed for more. My roommate and I printed out the following illustration and hung it on our refrigerator, and every time we had to make a grocery store run, we would exclaim “Grocery Shopping!”

Grocery Shopping

Other sayings from Hyperbole & a Half have made it into my repertoire: “Cats have sharp parts“,  “No . . . I wanted the opposite of this” and for a brief time, “The sun. It is making much warmness today.” Some of my favorite posts are most people’s favorites like Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts like Moving but I’m also really fond of the lesser praised Wolves.

When I found out Brosh had a book deal, I eagerly awaited its release and bought it at Barnes and Noble last fall. The graphic novel is divided into eighteen autobiographical essays: six essays were originally posts on the blog, while the remaining twelve essays are new material. The six older essays are: Brosh’s two poignant essays on depression, “The God of Cake”, “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving”, “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult”, and “The Party.” I would have loved to have even more essays from her blog, including some of my favorites linked to above. Hopefully, with the success of this book, Brosh will publish more of her blog essays in book form.

The new essays include three about her dogs (I love her illustrations of Simple Dog), three new stories from her childhood (I love her illustrations of her little sister) and a story about a scary goose that invaded her apartment. I enjoyed all of these.

It’s the remaining five essays that were the weak entries, for me. This was surprising since essays like “Motivation” and “Identity: Part One” are not a departure from her usual subjects. Brosh often writes and illustrates passages of intense and deprecating self-analysis. Sample quote: “The fact that I think about doing nice things feels almost like actually doing them. I get to feel all the good feelings without any of the inconvenience. It’s disgusting how proud of myself I am for things I’ve never done.”

Despite having encountered similar essays before, it may be possible that this relentless self-analysis was responsible for making these five essays drag. More than that though, I thought the writing was lackluster and the illustrations couldn’t offset that impression. I love Brosh’s illustrations and she is capable of being quite quotable, but I found the text of these five essays to be rather dull and repetitive. Unfortunately two of these essays were the last two essays, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed after I finished the book. That said, I would still recommend the book to fans of the blog so that they can enjoy the original content, and I hope Brosh continues telling stories in her distinctive style.


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2 responses to “Thoughts on two bestsellers: Gone Girl and Hyperbole and a Half

  1. I loved In the Woods, but I wasn’t a fan of Gone Girl. I’m not really sure why people keep comparing them as I think they are very different. It sounds as though we had similar opinions on Gone Girl – I have no idea why it bubbled to the top of the charts either. I wasn’t to my taste, but I’m sure there are loads of other books that do the same thing better and still get ignored 😦

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