Tag Archives: gone girl

Rebecca, Page and Screen

Rebecca Cover

Rebecca is a classic suspense novel, and since I’ve become interested in that genre in recent years, it seemed only right that I read it. It doesn’t hurt that Alfred Hitchcock directed a film adaptation in 1940. Upon reading the novel, I found that it also bears some similarities to a more recent suspense classic: Gone Girl.

It’s no surprise that Hitchcock took to Daphne du Maurier’s work, as Rebecca is perhaps the Hitchcock-iest novel ever. The narrator is an unnamed young woman who marries wealthy widower Maxim de Winter. When the couple returns to Manderly, his family estate, she finds the house haunted by the memory of his first wife Rebecca. The first Mrs. de Winter left behind a formidable legacy, as well as a housekeeper who is still frighteningly loyal to her departed mistress. Manderly itself is almost a character, serving as a living reminder of Rebecca and the privileged world where the narrator feels out of place.

Rebecca 1

This story is a Hitchcock goldmine for themes of female identity. Think of Vertigo and Scottie’s attempts to recreate the woman he loved and lost. Think of Notorious and Alicia paying for the sins of her father by playing the spy. The second Mrs. de Winter is so overshadowed by the memory of Rebecca that she isn’t even given a name of her own, while Rebecca’s name is the title. But as Scottie found out after her, flesh and blood can never live up to memories biased by love, and memories can be a lie. Although her timidity could be exhausting at times, I felt for the narrator in her insecurities and awkwardness.

A quick search reveals that I’m not the first person to draw the Gone Girl comparison. Both stories contain an absent figure wreaking havoc through the perception of herself left behind. Rebecca is described as able to charm anyone and adapt to any situation, and Gone Girl’s Amy takes pride in being a personality chameleon. On the one hand, we could take these characters as an indictment of female duplicity, with Rebecca’s modest narrator serving as the model for appropriate femininity. Hollywood and Hitchcock take the critique further in that direction, but both of these novels are written by women who understand that identity is a performance. One could argue that their female characters just know how to perform to their advantage.

Rebecca 2

Apart from the suspenseful story line, the visual elements of Rebecca make it primed for adaptation. First and foremost, there’s Manderly, which can be presented as beautiful or foreboding. Within Manderly we have the tangible reminders of Rebecca, particularly her bedroom suite in the west wing. The west wing faces the sea (wild, untamed, potentially dangerous), while the second Mrs. de Winter’s bedroom faces the rose garden (safe, controlled, domestic). There’s also visual delineation to be made between the bright, artificial world of Monte Carlo, where Maxim meets his second wife, and the gothic world of Manderly. And really, contrast is a filmmaker’s best friend.

Rebecca is a classic for many reasons. It can be read in the tradition of the gothic novels that came before it or as a precursor to the psychological thrillers of today. As for me, I’m glad to have another suspenseful lady to add to my list.



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Best of 2014: Movie Edition, Part 1

My year in movie viewing was a mixture of new releases and Classic Hollywood, and you’ll find both in my top 10 list. Bust out the popcorn bowl for numbers 10 through 6!

10. American Hustle

American Hustle

I discovered two new favorite filmmakers in 2014, and the first was David O. Russell. I saw The Fighter (2010) during my early days of Netflix, and although I really loved it, most of my focus was on the acting. It was his two subsequent films that really cemented my love for the director. American Hustle (2013) draws cast members from both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but remixes them with a serious 1970s aesthetic. Between the costumes and the con man plot, American Hustle is more of a confection than his previous films, but the cast still delivers dynamite performances. And I’m not just talking about Bradley Cooper’s perm and Amy Adams’s cleavage.

9. The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars Poster

As a huge fan of the novel, I was seriously nervous about this adaptation. How could Hollywood possibly be trusted to communicate the subtleties of John Green’s story? For some reason I was much more suspicious about Shailene Woodley as Hazel than Angel Elgort as Augustus. Well, I couldn’t have been more off-base. Woodley nails Hazel’s quiet strength, not to mention the physical toll of her illness. It was pure joy to see the Amsterdam trip translated to the screen, complete with canals and the Anne Frank House. And yes, I cried on at least three separate occasions. The sensitivity of this adaptation was the year’s most pleasant surprise.

8. His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday

Early in 2014 I went on a bit of a Classic Hollywood binge. His Girl Friday (1940) was one of my favorites to come out of that period. The film is famous for its mile-a-minute dialogue, and watching Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s verbal acrobatics is endlessly enjoyable. The costumes and newsroom nicknames only add its charm. Based on Russell’s matching hat and blazer ensemble, how could this woman not be an ace reporter? She tells Grant, “You’re wonderful in a loathsome sort of way,” but after ninety minutes of schemes and screwball comedy, you’ll be inclined to think he’s just plain wonderful.

7. Gone Girl

Gone Girl - 2014

My other favorite filmmaker of 2014 was David Fincher. While I admire David O. Russell for his focus on characters, Fincher is a master of ambiance. That makes him an ideal director to adapt Gillian Flynn’s work, which similarly hinges on the mood of a place. Few adaptations can fully satisfy the avid reader, but Gone Girl comes close. Its deviations are easy to forgive because it’s just a quality film. My greatest wish was for the movie to feel unsettling, and Rosamund Pike under Fincher’s direction makes that a reality. On a lighter note, best use of a cat for subtle character development! (Read my full review here.)

6. Rear Window

Rear Window

Oh, Jimmy Stewart, you excellent creeper. Rear Window (1954) was the obvious progression from multiple viewings of Vertigo (1958) in college. If you forget that Rear Window is an established classic, it’s miraculous to think that a movie about a man confined to his apartment with a broken leg can be so filled with tension. The film stealthily progresses from summer doldrums to murder mystery, culminating in a genuinely frightening climactic sequence. (Particularly if you’re alone in your apartment in midwinter.) Then again, I’m the sort who’s happy to watch Jimmy Stewart look out a window for two hours.

Tomorrow this list comes to a cinematic conclusion with my top 5 movies of the year!

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The Dream Team Gives Us Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn and David Fincher are a match made in book-to-film adaptation heaven. Fincher’s directing style perfectly communicates the domestic menace of Flynn’s psychological thriller. He presents Gone Girl in a blue-gray color palette with an insidiously droning score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Every detail hints at the danger that can lie beneath a calm facade. Rosamund Pike stars as Amy Dunne, the wife who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, and Ben Affleck is her troubled husband Nick.

Warning: This post is intended for people who have read the book or seen the movie. Gone Girl is just infinitely more fun to discuss when you don’t have to worry about spoilers.

Gone Girl Still

Can we take a moment to marvel at this casting? Admittedly, I’m biased when it comes to Ben Affleck, but even if he doesn’t fit your image of Nick, the aging golden boy is a character that he embodies with ease. The role of Amy could make or break the movie, and I think Fincher was wise to cast a low-profile actress. Hopefully the reveal of Amy’s true character is more effective when viewers have no preconceived notions about Rosamund Pike. An impeccable supporting cast helps to ground a story that could feel apart from reality. I’m absolutely obsessed with Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as the local police officers, and Tyler Perry is refreshingly understated as defense attorney Tanner Bolt.

Rosamund Pike as Amy requires her own paragraph. Her ethereal beauty is a perfect fit, and she’s inscrutable enough to play Amy. I’ve seen the movie twice and been thrown by her voice both times. It’s low and posh, somehow making her feel British even though she’s using an American accent. Pike excels at portraying Amy’s dark side, but she performs the voiceovers in a way that creates less juxtaposition between Diary Amy and Real Amy than I feel when reading the book. To her credit, by the end she is a truly frightening creature. After my second viewing, I enjoyed hearing the teens in front of me discuss how creeped out they were.

Gone Girl - 2014

Some viewers complain that they miss Nick’s voice, the way the novel’s alternating chapters give equal weight to both points of view. Honestly, the thought didn’t even cross my mind when I first saw the movie. Gillian Flynn actually wrote the script, and she says it felt appropriate to have Amy acting as the “voice of God.” After all, it’s her orchestrations that set the plot in motion. In my opinion, the film still presents the dual perspectives in a way that works for the medium. As Flynn points out, too many voiceovers would start to feel like a book on tape.

Seeing the movie a second time, I found myself thinking about the Bechdel Test. Whether or not the film features female characters talking to each other about something besides a man, as the Bechdel Test requires, Gone Girl has a lot of female characters. And rather than the genders talking among themselves, the movie most often shows men and women talking to each other. This feels apt for a story that hinges on gender dynamics. Fans of the book will be happy to know that Amy’s “Cool Girl” monologue is preserved for the screen. While her acerbic speech (about women taking on characteristics based on what men will find attractive) is startling, it underlines the theme that identity is a performance. The film fixes on this crucial concept, which is enough for me to deem it a success.

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This Is What Excites Me

In the world of art and pop culture, sometimes when it rains, it pours. That’s exactly how I feel when looking ahead to the next few months. There’s so much being released that I can’t wait to see, hear, and read. And what exactly has me so excited?

New Imogen Heap album on August 18! 

Sparks Cover

Seriously, you guys, this has been five years in the making. Sparks was originally scheduled for release on March 3, but was delayed by the label for unspecified reasons. Now Imogen is releasing it through her own label, much to my relief. This woman has been a favorite of mine for years. After watching the making-of documentary for her last album, I marveled at the way her creativity seems to reach out in every direction. Can’t wait to see what she has in store this time.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood book on September 30!

Scandals Cover

Anne Helen Petersen and her Scandals of Classic Hollywood posts were a huge inspiration for my Craving Classic Hollywood series this winter. While rediscovering her greatness, I came across the news that she was writing a book. Come September, the wait will be over! The author promises all-new scandals, and one can only assume that witty commentary and luscious black-and-white photos are part of the package.

The Gone Girl movie on October 3!

Gone Girl Still

This might be more excitement than I can take in one week. My obsession with all things Gillian Flynn is well-documented, and I think this story will make an amazing film. I have an eternal soft spot for Ben Affleck, and Rosamund Pike is an inspired choice for Amy. I’ve seen her in several roles, but she’s a fairly unknown entity to American audiences, which makes her kind of perfect to play Amy. And could there be a more ideal director for this project than David Fincher? I admired him for The Social Network, but a recent viewing of Zodiac proved that the man is a master of foreboding. Honestly, I haven’t anticipated a film adaptation this much in years.

I could go on, but you get the idea. What’s life without something to look forward to?

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Sharper and Darker with Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn

After reading Gone Girl (twice) and blogging about it (twice), I finally moved on to Gillian Flynn’s two previous novels. When I mentioned reading Dark Places, several coworkers asked, “Do you like it better than Gone Girl?” While I was reading Sharp Objects, they asked, “Is it as good as the other two?” I love discussing books with my coworkers, but these questions didn’t inspire me. Sure, I like a good ranking as much as the next girl. But when reading multiple books by a talented writer, I’m more interested in how each book expands my understanding of her work. Comparing and contrasting, certainly, but on a deeper level than “this beats that.”

The easy answer is that I like different aspects of each book, but that’s hardly delving deep. As someone who rarely reads mysteries, I have to wonder what draws me to Flynn in the first place. For starters, her books are psychological thrillers, focused more on twisted character relationships than action and intrigue. As discussed in previous posts, the characterizations in Gone Girl are top-notch. Her earlier work displays the same talent, although the protagonists are more isolated, unlike the toxic married couple at the center of Gone Girl. The conflict is I-don’t-trust-anyone versus I-don’t-trust-you.

Sharp Objects

Dark Places and Sharp Objects also scared me on a level that Gone Girl never did. It probably didn’t help that I was usually reading them alone in my apartment, but there must be something else at work. Both earlier novels involve crimes against children, which is bound to be creepier than crimes against adults. And because the protagonists aren’t a golden couple, but rather damaged and isolated women, their vulnerability is keenly felt by the reader. I have to admire Flynn for creating these women, tossing aside feminine delicacy and discussing their flaws without flinching.

Maybe that’s why I read her books: to practice the art of not flinching. Interviewers often ask Flynn about her unflattering portraits of women, to which she responds that it’s time to acknowledge that women aren’t all softness. Women engage in different types of violence and cruelty than men, but they have the potential to be equally damaging. (Any girl who’s lived through middle school should know that.) Sharp Objects particularly explores this theme by focusing on toxic mother-daughter relationships, but Dark Places also contains a wide range of flawed women. Would this even be a topic of conversation with a primarily male cast of characters? Probably not, because we’re accustomed to seeing men as both villains and heroes.

Dark Places

Another appealing facet of Flynn’s novels is the Midwestern setting. There are countless mysteries and thrillers set in forbidding cities, but Flynn sees the potential for menace in small-town bars and decrepit farmsteads. Although Missouri is not Minnesota, her images often feel eerily familiar. More and more, I appreciate writers with a strong sense of place. All three of her novels have ambience up the wazoo. The Shadow of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite books, transports me to Barcelona, and Flynn’s act of literary teleportation feels no less miraculous.

I would like to discuss each book more specifically, but the word count is already creeping up. I also hesitate to reveal too many plot points because uncertainty is crucial to the roller coaster reading experience of these books. Not everyone who liked Gone Girl will like Sharp Objects and Dark Places. But if you have the stomach for it—if you want to practice not flinching—they are gripping reads.

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Gone Girl, Revisited

Gone Girl

What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

Gone Girl was all the rage in 2012 and continued to be a bestseller well into this year. I wrote my original review back in August of 2012, in which I was very careful not to spoil plot points for potential readers. Since it’s a book with many surprise twists, it’s also a book that you want to reread, just to look for clues you may have missed the first time. Or at least that’s what you want to do if you have a slightly obsessive personality (cough cough). Over a year past my first encounter with Gone Girl, it felt like the perfect time to reread. I will be discussing the entire novel this time around, so if it’s still on your to-read list, go no further!

The greatest advantage of rereading is that you aren’t so focused on plot. If you’re an English nerd like me, you can think about narrative structure and themes. Gone Girl is all about identity. More specifically, the way our identities are shaped with other people’s perceptions in mind. The reader’s opinion of Nick and Amy, the married couple at the center of this thriller, is likely to change drastically from the beginning to the end of the novel. The seismic shift comes when Diary Amy is revealed to be a fraud, but meeting the real Amy also alters our perception of Nick. Although he is a deeply flawed man, he has also spent the last five years married to a sociopath, which should garner some sympathy.

An obvious game to play is looking for moments when Diary Amy tells the truth. When is she voicing an opinion that Real Amy shares? Early on in the diary entries, she says, “Isn’t that the point of every relationship: to be known by someone else, to be understood?” This is certainly what Real Amy wants when she drops her Cool Girl persona and shows Nick her true self. Although the real Amy is a wildly unsympathetic character most of the time, she makes this unnerving statement: “Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you?” It’s moments like this that make Gone Girl a powerful character study.

A novel with not one but two unreliable narrators! Two narrators who lie or omit information until the second half of the novel. I often overhear customers’ comments in the bookstore, and unlikable characters is the number one complaint about this book. In my opinion, if you require all your protagonists to be likable, you’re severely limiting your reading experiences. I subscribe to the school of thought that main characters need to be either likable or interesting, but not necessarily both. When I read Gone Girl, I like Diary Amy, and Nick becomes significantly more interesting when Real Amy is revealed. That’s more than enough to keep me reading.

My only complaint about Gone Girl was the ending. A coworker asked what could have possibly been a satisfactory ending, and I quickly responded that I wanted to see Amy get busted. Upon rereading, I was curious to see if the ending would affect me differently. The answer is a little. There are moments throughout the novel when Nick and Amy describe people and situations in remarkably similar ways. As they go through their internal monologues, they also like to imagine how the other one would react to a particular thought. That opinion is sometimes echoed by the other character in later chapters. I can see how Gillian Flynn sets up the idea that they are perversely perfect for each other, but I don’t have to like it.

I’m looking forward to the Gone Girl movie next fall. Ben Affleck doesn’t fit my mental image of Nick, but I don’t mind because I think it’s a good role for him. Who else has read Gone Girl? Did the ending frustrate you as much as me?


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Best of 2012: Book Edition, Part 2

These five books are so wonderful that most of them have already been mentioned on the blog. Still, they each deserve another moment in the sun. Here are my favorite books of 2012!

5. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is not a thriller that you can enjoy and then forget about the next day. More likely you’ll to want to reread it searching for clues and tell all your friends. This story of a disappearing wife and her suspicious husband moves beyond the thriller genre to be an all-around stellar book. As I said in my original review, it’s part mystery, part thriller, part relationship drama. You may think you know where it’s going, but you’re probably wrong. There’s more to Gone Girl than meets the eye.

4. The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

This is Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, and I can only hope it’s the first of many. (A synopsis can hardly do it justice, but I tried.) I have rarely seen such intricate, beautiful writing in contemporary fiction. It is a novel of juxtaposition: darkness and light, sweltering heat and bitter cold. From Mabel’s first description of the unsettling silence of the Alaskan wilderness, I felt immersed in her claustrophobic world. The Russian fairy tale influence infuses the story with magic. The Snow Child is lovely from start to finish, and I was sad to see it end.

3. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

If I were to write an English paper about Sweet Tooth, it would be challenging just to pick a topic. Should I write about its exploration of the relationship between reader and writer? Should I analyze the complex narrator Serena Frome? I got to do that a bit in my original review, but there’s so much more I could say. Ian McEwan lays his characters bare in a style that keeps me fascinated. In terms of quality, Sweet Tooth is right on par with Atonement. A few spy-versus-spy plot twists and a surprise ending are just icing on the cake.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

When I compliment the beauty of Eowyn Ivey’s writing, the only rival on this list is Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The Prisoner of Heaven is a continuation of both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I was a little nervous to read it since The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all-time favorites. As it turns out, I should have had more faith in this incredible writer. He wisely focuses The Prisoner of Heaven on Fermin, a colorful secondary character whose story is not fully revealed in Shadow. Barely scratched the surface might be a more accurate description. As Fermin tells his story with characteristic wit and wisdom, the reader learns how the characters of all three novels are connected. If you’ll pardon me the pun, I was in heaven.

1. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

John Green has become one of my heroes. I’m revealing my bias when I say that it brings me so much joy to see him succeed as he has with The Fault in Our Stars. This book is proof that young adult novels can be both respected and beloved by more than just teenagers. Hazel is the truest of narrators — she just happens to be sixteen and have cancer. I often tell customers that this book has everything to offer:  laughter and tears, romance and tragedy. We don’t always want our fiction to savor so strongly of real life, but I think the best fiction usual does. If you haven’t already, please read my blog post about it. The Fault in Our Stars is worth your time, I promise.

The Fault in Our Stars


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