Monday, June 6, 2016

Mondays on the Margins: Twist and Shout OR Stop F*cking Comparing Everything to Gone Girl Already

For the love of Gillian Flynn, could every freaking publisher stop marketing every freaking new book as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train? Yes, Corporate Reading thinks we're all sheep that follow every new trend and then every other trend coat-tailing on the first trend, without any ability to discern quality for ourselves. Could we just not?

For the record, I read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Hey, I'm as susceptible to hype as anyone, I just take a breath before I leap in, and I don't buy, I borrow. Here's the thing about Gone Girl; Gillian Flynn has actually been around for a while. I would have read Gone Girl even without the blow-up because I had read her previous two books and found that she's actually a really good writer. Her books are dark mysteries that also have some solid and uncomfortable insights into the icky parts of relationships and family and self-image and identity. This is also true of Gone Girl, and that's what I think makes it a great read, not just the 'twist' that seems to be the hook that publishers think will grab everyone.

Here's the thing about The Girl on the Train - it's a really solid book, for a first novel. It has great narrative energy and the writing is workmanlike. I felt that it lacked the depth of Gone Girl simply because Hawkins hasn't had the time to develop those writing chops, but she very well might in forthcoming work.

So now every new book, especially debut work, is being touted as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Well, yeah, because every publisher wants you to buy up stuff by their new author and create another feeding frenzy that will make them rich. And hey, I'm all for Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins getting rich off writing - something that is really, really hard to do these days. But I'm not a publisher, and I don't have a horse in this race. What I can do is tell you about some books that I've read that have a twist, if you like that kind of thing. And I do - if it's done well, and supported by great writing, and works to subtly undermine things in a clever way, there's nothing more delicious than a good plot twist. What a lot of these 'next Gone Girl' writers and publishers don't seem to realize is that a plot twist is nothing without a good plot to twist, or good writing to twist it well. And a lot of readers (present company excepted, naturally) don't realize that you can read backwards as well as forwards - it doesn't always have to be about the Next Big Thing.

So here's my list of, um, I don't know.... the last Gone Girl? Gone Girl Precursors? Really Good Books that Mostly Have Some Sort of Twist and Who Actually Gives a Fuck About Gone Girl, Let's Move On? No, that's unkind, I'm not blaming the book, just the shallow lowest-common-denominator shilling.

There are seventeen - not ten or fifteen twenty or any kind of round number because this isn't a neat little magazine list!

Exmoor Trilogy by Belinda Bauer (Blacklands, Darkside and Finders Keepers): These work as standalones, but they are a magnificent work of melancholy mystery with a visceral sense of place when read all together.

Monkeewrech by P.J. Tracy: On the whole, this series is a little uneven - some entries are brilliant, and some are mediocre mysteries that still have a really fun cast of characters. The first one really needs to be read first, though (I didn't read it first. Slight regrets).

The Scarred Man and The Animal Hour by Andrew Klavan: I could write a whole post on this author in the category of whether you can still love books by people you come to strongly dislike personally, but I won't right now. I read these years and years ago, and to me they exemplify classic noir storytelling with hard-boiled characters, flawed steamy romances and cracking good twisty mysterious plot elements.

Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card: See above about authors with problematic opinions on stuff which I feel strongly about. I can't tear myself away from his storytelling, though. This is more of a meandering family story where the mystery smacks you in the face, but it packed a real punch for me. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I also adore his Kenzie and Gennaro mystery series - like, it's in my top five mystery series list. But this fits square in the psychological-suspense, slow-build-of-dread, shook-my-head-in-wonder-when-it-was-over category. 

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton: I also liked her earlier mysteries, before she started her Lacey Flint series. There's a substantial danger that this will get confused with Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - if you end up with one instead of the other, just read it! Happily, they're both pretty good. 

To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman: In direct contrast to how I usually feel, I really like Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, but I LOVE her standalones, particularly this one and Every Secret Thing. They both have some very deft writing about class divisions, adolescent female friendships, and how the effects of crime reverberate around a society in sometimes unseen ways. 

The Treatment and The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder: Dark, twisty AND twisted - not for the faint of heart. 

The Last Child by John Hart: With some books, you just feel like the author squished up a bunch of broken hearts and wrote the book in broken heart juice. You might think I'm a monster for liking this. "Like" isn't even the right word. 

Sanctum by Denise Mina: 

Land of the Living by Nicci French: She has amnesia but is not a brain dead moron. In fact, she takes control of her own victimization quite admirably. 

Judas Child by Carol O'Connell: Dark and messy and brilliant. 

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah: Leads you down the garden path and then clobbers you with a bird-feeder. Wholly unreliable narrator. I had no idea where this was going. Still catching my breath. 

Oh, and there's this book The Widow that's supposedly also for fans of You Know What, and you know how I always say even if someone you like doesn't like a book, don't let that stop you from reading the book and deciding for yourself? On this one, do yourself a favour and let me decide - it's utter crap. 

(I apologize that I seem to have let Surly Thursdays creep somewhat into my Mondays on the Margins post. I will attempt not to make this a regular thing). 




5 comments:

Hannah said...

I... I haven't read any of these. I tried to read Gone Girl but my ebook copy from the library was formatted all wrong and eventually I just got tired trying to decipher what I was looking at.

I will add some of these to my list. :)

Nicole said...

I haven't read any of those on your list but I did read Gone Girl (liked it) and I have Girl on the Train in my possession and it's on my to-read list. So I'll let you know how it goes! FTR I just read Etta and Otto and Russell and James and I highly recommend it. I'm also reading a book I picked up at Chapters for $2.99 and it is so entertaining. I think it might actually be YA lit but hey, that's cool. It's called Love and Other Foreign Words, and I like it a lot.

Steph Lovelady said...

It's like how for a long time, every folk rock/indie female vocalist was like Joni Mitchell, though come to think of it I don't hear that comparison as much as I used to. Anyway, they were rarely much like her, even if they had their own appeal. And comparisons to Stephen King are even more thoughtless (and still quite frequent). It's lazy shorthand for "scary" and rarely goes much deeper than that.

Maggie said...

I am so late, but I love your book posts. I've read so many great books because you recommended them I'm going to dive right in!

Also I totally agree about your Gone Girl point, but for a different reason - I really didn't like that book. I saw the "twist" coming a mile away and part just before the end (I'm trying to remain vague here so as not to spoil it for others) just pissed me off because it was so beyond unbelievable I couldn't get past it. So, whenever something is said to be the next Gone Girl, I actively avoid it. I'm probably missing a bunch of good books because publishers are framing them in that manner. BAH!

Bibliomama said...

Thanks so much, Maggie. I think we have similar reading tastes, so feel free to suggest anything you think I might have missed.

I can totally see your point about Gone Girl. Have you read any of her other books? They're not really that similar, so if you're interested I wouldn't let GG put you off. But really good point about publishers misjudging the effect of that marketing technique.