Girls, girls, so many girls. I had what I thought was the nifty idea to make this compare and contrast a four way between these four novels, three of which have gotten unbelievable press (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Girls) and two which have been made into major motion pictures (Gone Girland The Girl on the Train) and one which is slated to become a movie (The Girl Before).
Does simply putting the word girls in the title of your book create an automatic up-sell of that book? I don’t know for sure but it certainly didn’t seem like a bad idea for any of these books. On second thought, yeah, I believe it does till a certain point when there are diminishing returns. Such being the nature of trends.
Of the four here that I am comparing, I only disliked, The Girl Before, a story about obsessive love gone wrong. It seemed as if the story was trying too hard in general and trying to hard to appeal to the same audiences of both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Perhaps it was a case of too much of the same type of story working hardest to capitalize on the success of those blockbusters that came before. This may be true as there is a question posted on Goodreads about why the word girls is used so frequently in book titles. You can cut the annoyance with a knife. This isn’t even the only The Girl Before title out there. There is another book with the same title by Rena Olsen and is of the same genre. Maybe we should rethink the trend?
The publicist who decided to bill this book “In the tradition of The Girl on the Train, The Silent Wife, and Gone Girl comes an enthralling psychological thriller that spins one woman’s seemingly good fortune, and another woman’s mysterious fate, through a kaleidoscope of duplicity, death, and deception” pissed me off with the comparison and I cannot be the only one. Also, I feel that a disservice is done to both the author and the book itself when a new book is denied the very wings it requires to fly. When the book inevitably fails to measure up, it loses credibility and becomes even less memorable than if it was allowed to stand on its own merit. There is only one Gone Girl and one Gillian Flynn. Sorry wannabes. Publishers please take note. Although, The Girl Before is soon to be a major motion picture directed by Ron Howard. This, I suppose, is one point for similarity.
Gone Girl seems to be the benchmark for these four novels however The Girl on the Train did stand on its own two feet although some of the early reviews referred to a Gone Girl comparison as in “if you loved Gone Girl, you will love The Girl on the Train.” If you hated Gone Girl or didn’t think it was all that great, you might decide to forgo The Girl on the Train altogether. Think this doesn’t happen, go read some of those Goodreads comments.
Here is an overview of each novel.
Gone Girl/Gillian Flynn: Nick Dunne wakes up on his 5-year anniversary to his beautiful wife Amy making him a celebratory breakfast. Soon after, Amy goes missing. As the clues are racked up, the world is left to wonder, did Nick kill his wife and if so, why? The motives for murder are introduced rapidly. It’s apparent that Nick had plenty of reasons to want Amy dead. Still, with no recovered body, it is impossible to know one hundred percent. As sympathy for Nick with the media as well as those closest to him waxes and wanes depending on the spin dejour, he embarks on an all-out quest to clear his name and prove to all that he did not kill his wife in spite of all the evidence mounting against him.
Flynn delves deep into the psyche of this particularly troubled yet relatively short marriage. The book is divided into three distinct parts and we learn in the first that both Amy and Nick have lost their trendy NYC writing jobs. Amy, who had a substantial trust courtesy of her parents collaborative and very successful children’s book series based on their only daughter, is essentially broke by the time she and Nick move back to his childhood home of Missouri to care for his terminally ill mother and oversee care for his Alzheimer’s inflicted father. Things between Nick and Amy begin to unravel pretty quickly from this point. Alternating back and forth chapters between Nick and Amy, with Amy being revealed through a hidden diary she has been writing for several years, the story paces quickly with page turning revelations.
One of the things that make this story so engaging is Flynn’s attention to detail. She leaves no stone unturned which can be extremely difficult to pull off. There were in the end no “what about”, questions that came up, at least not for me. This and an ending that completely wowed made Gone Girl stand out from all the others in a way only this caliber of novel could.
The Girl on the Train/Paula Hawkins: Written from the perspective of three women with chapters broken down by date and time of day, The Girl on the Train offers a suspense filled time-line almost as an ancillary character in this unfolding drama that will have you on the edge of your seat. Fast-paced and edgy, this is a wild, off-the-rails train ride.
Newly divorced alcoholic suffering blackouts that inhibit her from remembering pockets of time and increasingly important events, Rachel rides the train to and from work each day. On it she passes the suburban neighborhood and the house she used to live happily with her husband until the day when her husband Tom’s extramarital affair had him divorcing Rachel to marry Anna, his mistress. Tom and Anna set up house in Rachel old home, the one she was forced to abandon.
A few doors down live a couple whom Rachel has affectionately named Jess and Jason, though she does not know them personally. During the train’s daily stop in this town, Rachel often witnesses what she has deemed the perfect couple sitting on their balcony and fills in the blanks of their idyllic life together, a life that in reality is nothing as Rachel imagined.
When the news reports that “Jess” whose real name is Megan has gone missing and that her husband is the number one suspect, Rachel feels she has to get involved in the case, especially since she witnessed something that happened with Megan just before she was gone.
These two stories are the same genre but they are in fact, two distinctly different stories that should not be confused with one another.
The Girl Before/JP Delaney: Two young women with eerily similar looks each tell their own story about how they came to live at One Folgate in a state of the art minimalist home built by an obsessively controlling architect in exchange for their privacy.
Overall, a solid storyline whose individual pieces did not live up to the lofty whole. It needed some major plot tweaking. Fifty Shades of Grey references were a bit eye-roll worthy however some might find them titillating. It is hard to fathom women being portrayed as so incredibly dimwitted. Main characters were mostly portrayed as extremely un-nuanced. This is a very quick read with short, alternating voice chapters that accelerate the pace.
Reading between the lines, this story screamed that it is trying to be bigger and better than it actually is by again working to capitalize on the immense success of other novels in the same genre. This distraction also detracted from the story.
The Girls/Emma Cline: Cline’s tale of a lonely teenage girl on the brink of disaster when she finds a group of homeless vagrants who commune under the influence of a Manson-esque cult leader.
Fantastically written and bristling with grizzly energy. Evie’s allusions to her own homosexuality pays homage to her utter confusion as to who she is and her place in the world. Evie is a girl on the brink of discovering her own power in the world and all the ways she can be played. An unbelievable debut.
This was a different kind of story than the previous three and the one in which the use of the word “girls” was the most fitting.
There you have it. The moral of the story is…don’t judge a book by its cover or in this case, its title.