I’m not in a book club, but if I was . . .
Fiftysomething: The sheer tedium of Gone Girl, ‘the thriller of the year’, will obliterate your critical faculties
As a child I spent great swathes of time, when I could have been outside running amok among the privet hedges and washing lines in my Crimplene slacks, sitting under the dining-room table, reading. I read every ginger-beer-and-knee-socked volume of Blyton’s exhausting oeuvre, pausing only to roll the name Quentin around on my sherbet-stained tongue. (Quentin was the intensely irritable uncle in the Famous Five novels who, I think, may have been harbouring a secret desire to embrace bohemia.)
I ground my way through the tedium of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, who, if they had been trying to furnish their tiny, pilfering lives from the detritus of our suburban home, would have had to make do with hairspray cans and histrionics and a block of caked black eyeliner.
I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s endless, sanctimonious meditation on her Little House on the Prairie and Louisa May Alcott’s adventures in Orchard House, and Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.
I read Streatfeild’s entire literary shoe bag, in fact, including a satisfyingly bleak series of autobiographical novels that began with A Vicarage Family. That memorable book made me long for temperance and Sunday school and chilly nights under the hand-sewn eiderdown, in the way that pre-adolescent girls the world over actually quite fancy a bit of asceticism and self-denial en route to their boyband fixations.
As I leafed through the 1970s, my father fired a few books over my bow. I remember abandoning my Jackie annual and trying to wade through Catch-22 to please him.
Years later, on his first hospital visit to investigate the cancer that would eventually kill him, after the nurse had opened his case and removed the bottle of Paddy from under his folded blue pyjamas, he looked out the window and said: “I am Yossarian in the tree.” I kind of knew what he meant.
But now that I’m blind enough to own reading glasses, I can consume what I want.
The other day I walked resolutely past an aggressive display of “Gone Girl, the Addictive No 1 US Bestseller that Everyone is Talking About!!!” Ha, I smirked to myself, what rot. You won’t catch me trotting up to the cashier and buying a copy, no siree – and then I trotted up to the cashier and bought a copy. Described as “the thriller of the year”, Gone Girl, by the American author Gillian Flynn, has sold more copies than there are grains of sand.
The cover, jet black with bright orange lettering, looks alarmingly like a bottle of drain cleaner, and, in many ways, that’s exactly what the book is. You pour its noxious contents in through your eye sockets, and within about 48 hours it will have cleared out every bit of crusting discernment that may have been lurking in your literary system.
The book’s potent alchemy fuses together its “gripping”, “baffling” and “tantalising” ingredients to erase all traces of perspicacity.
The sheer tedium of the book will obliterate your critical faculties, leaving your synapses and brainwaves shiny and new. Read it and your slackened lobes will be clean as a whistle.
Gone Girl, without raining on your reading pleasure, is the story of a marriage between two dull, self-serving people, one of whom disappears. The pages are populated by spoilt women and grudging men, and the novel’s final percussive beats are deeply depressing.
The author seems to suggest that the devil you know is better than the devil you might meet if you got your head out of your waxed and buffed ass, and that couples may as well just suck up each other’s vileness and get on with pursuing the imperfect dream of the perfect lifestyle.
I read it, cover to cover; it’s a page-turner. I read it while the dinner burned and the hungry children carved their initials into the cat, and the cat sued, and the children fled, and the whole house of cards came tumbling down around my shell-likes.
And still I read, on and on, until the last bitter, unsatisfactory page.
And when the novel was over I read the section at the back that suggested notes for igniting discussion in your book club.
I’m not in a book club – I’d have to spend too long cleaning the bathroom – but
if I was in one, made up of people who didn’t mind drying their hands on the curtains, I wouldn’t waste another moment dissecting America’s latest number-one bestseller.
Instead, I’d ask my fellow readers to cast their minds back and focus on a more compelling literary question that’s haunted me for decades now: what was really going on between Noddy and Tessie Bear? I’d always assumed he was gay.