I don’t get to read a lot anymore because it’s hard for me to read while I’m writing. And I’m always writing. Occasionally, though, I treat myself to a book reported to be a particularly good work of fiction. I finally got around to reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and I loved it. Then I watched the movie, and to my pleasant surprise, I loved that too. Thus, I was shocked to find out how much criticism they have generated. They have been called “misogynistic” and have been said to be filled with “unlikable” (gasp) female characters. So, I’m going on record as an intelligent and empowered woman – I thought Gone Girl was fantastic. So there.
Some claim the female characters of Gone Girl are “stereotypical” and go on to list examples like Go’s “daddy issues” or Ellen Abbott’s “brazen” personality. I beg to differ. Stereotypical female characters, in my view, don’t have flaws. They are drawn like Disney princesses. They suffer. They survive. And if they are utterly sympathetic, someday their prince will come. The women of Gone Girl are not serene. They are not perfect or lovely. They have issues. So what? I think their issues make them interesting. Their flaws make them realistic. Their depth and their darkness make them memorable. Since when does a female character have to be “likable” or even “redeemable” to be well-drawn? What does that say about how society views women?
Detective Rhonda Boney is one of my favorite characters. Flynn has been criticized for making Boney sympathetic to Nick Dunne, who is accused of killing his wife. Since when is it a sign of “stereotypical female weakness” to believe someone is innocent until proven guilty? Margo Dunne (Go of the “daddy issues”), is another brilliant female character who has strength and depth and honor. The contrast between her and the two dimensional and utterly forgettable female protagonists that populate so many novels these days is profound.
The primary female character Amy Dunne, is a complex woman to say the least. I found her fascinating even though she freaked me out. She’s a brilliant woman with much more going on beneath the surface than one would guess, to put it mildly. I was drawn to her in much the same way I was drawn to Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs – who I also liked by the way, despite the fact that he ate people. Parts of me got her, and parts of me found her completely wackado, but I feel that way about a lot of people.
And what about the primary male character? Yes, Nick Dunne cheats on his brilliant wife with a needy twenty-year old former student. And yes, it’s annoying that he’s that emasculated by the fact that his wife’s money supported them. But those things happen every day because, once again, people are flawed. I’m not convinced he wouldn’t have come to realize what a huge a mistake he was making. Let’s face it, Andie would have gotten boring fast to a guy with Nick’s intelligence. Even if he didn’t though, making stupid choices and being annoying doesn’t make Nick Dunne a horrible character either. It also doesn’t make him deserve what happens to him. You don’t have to sympathize with Nick, though. You don’t have to like him either. That still doesn’t make it a bad book.
In sum, great characters don’t have to be likable; they don’t even have to be redeemable. They just have to be memorable. And the characters in Gone Girl are most assuredly memorable.