Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Born to Write

Finally started to read "Gone Girl," worried that the buzz about the movie would spoil all the famous surprises. As a half-assed student of the crime novel I'm impressed, a third of the way in, by what you could call the book's technical achievement: Two unreliable narrators testifying on different timelines, Nick narrating in the present while Amy's journal fills in past events.

Almost a century ago Agatha Christie shocked readers of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" by unthinkably making the first-person storyteller the culprit. This has always seemed to me to be the perfect example of a trick that can only be played once. No-one can ever do this again because the book they'd be stealing from is too familiar. But a similar stunt has been pulled off at least once. Scott Turow managed it in "Presumed Innocent," because the narrator was covering up not for himself but for a loved one.

There are a few seedy supporting players milling around in "GG," but it seems obvious, so far, that there are only two real candidates for the role of malign behind-the-scenes manipulator. It's a sign of Flynn's enviable skill that she has us changing our minds on the subject almost from chapter to chapter. (There is one other quite interesting possibility, but to even speculate about it would be spoilerish.)

There are still people who insist that books like this can never be profound. But admitting they are not often deep is not to concede that they must be a snap to write. In fact, for most of us, they would be impossible to write. Our minds just don't work that way. There is a form of duplicitous intelligence needed to construct books like "GG" that one may simply have to be born with.