I have tracked the success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” -- the thriller has spent 77 weeks on our bestseller list -- and I have given the book as a gift. I have watched with anticipation as the movie was put together, cast and crew announced, and trailers gone online. The one thing I haven’t quite gotten to is reading the book.
But I saved a copy on my desk, determined to read the novel before the movie opened.
This is important to me, giving the book precedence. The book is the original artifact; the movie is an interpretation. And a novel -- a good novel, anyway -- will have more depth and detail and ideas and resonances than all but the best movies can hope to contain.
So there I sat with my copy of “Gone Girl,” anxiously keeping track of the looming movie debut when, without time to crack the book open, I got invited to a press screening.
Reader, I watched it.
I thought the film, directed by David Fincher, was great. I realize my experience was shaped a lot by having not read the book. Going in, I knew the basic premise: A wife goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband becomes a suspect. The story has a lot of plot twists, and because I hadn’t read the book, I wasn’t forewarned about any of them.
For book lovers, there is a scene in a bookstore that you probably should not try in real life. (Although the film is set in Missouri, Angelenos will probably recognize it as downtown L.A.'s the Last Bookstore.)
Upon leaving, I wondered if I could really enjoy the book: I’d seen what happens, if perhaps a compressed version. Is a thriller still thrilling if you know what’s coming next?
This one is. I had to tear myself away from the book (currently on page 268) to write this.
There are some pleasant surprises in the text: The husband, Nick, is described as “distractingly gorgeous....like the rich-boy villain in an ‘80s teen movie.” Since James Spader has aged out of the role, Ben Affleck is totally perfect.
In the film, Amy’s diary, read by her in voiceover, creates flashbacks telling the story of their romance. It is much-expanded in the book, expressing a broader range of emotions. In the movie, the flashbacks are pretty straightforward, while in the book there’s more going on.
Or maybe that’s just me looking back on it. But wait! No spoilers!
The book uses a very clever she-said, he-said structure to construct how we see the characters and come to understand their changing relationship. Without having the rich internal thoughts that make up the text, the film sort of has to pick sides. Since Amy is the titular “Gone Girl,” we’re on Nick’s.
One of the pleasures of the book is that Flynn wrote a great page-turner. She also wrote the screenplay, and it’s fascinating while reading the novel for the first time to see what she was willing to jettison to make the movie. There’s so much that has to be cut that authors are usually too close to the material to be able to write a film version on their own. But Flynn pulled it off.
As I finish the book, I know what’s going to happen (I think). I won’t be able to picture anyone but the actors as the book’s characters -- even though Tyler Perry as attorney Tanner Bolt is entirely different from how he’s described in the novel; Perry’s displaced him. No matter how much they’ve drabbed her down, Kim Dickens is much more glamorous than the book’s Det. Boney. I can’t stop seeing Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s jilted high school boyfriend. And while Rosamund Pike is more than a decade younger than Amy is in the book, the late-thirtysomething-ness of her character is excised from the story; she seems like the absolute perfect Amy.
Can you see “Gone Girl” and then go back to read the book? Yes. I did.
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