Three hefty bits of fiction this week, published between 1847 and this year, but I’ll take them in reverse chronological order of their stories.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I don’t know what to tell you. Read it. There, done. I mean, I could get into the plot some (woman goes missing on her 5th anniversary, husband is confounded and suspected, things happen) but really, it all unfolds so grippingly that I wouldn’t want to give a bit of it away in advance. What I will tell you is that Flynn knows her characters inside out, more thoroughly than most any author I can think of, and it is wonderful. And terrifying, because everyone is flawed, Flynn’s characters perhaps more than others. I listened to this book, narrated by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heywood, and you know, normally I listen to books while I do stuff – chores, work, exercise, whatever. But this, I was often enough just sitting, rapt. Or pacing, to better concentrate and absorb and anticipate and fret. Whelan was smooth as butter, which fit the character to a tee, and Heywood, oh - there was such a landscape in his narration. This was my second Flynn novel, and I found after the previous (Sharp Objects) that I needed a little recovery time before starting this, but I am unable to stay away from her. Her writing has become a serious, dangerous addiction.
My little palate cleanser after Gone Girl was Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which I hadn’t read since high school. I had the mistaken impression that I didn’t really care for it, that it was too gothic and silly and melodramatic for me. Well, maybe it had been, at one point (there is a madwoman in the attic, after all), but that would have been when I was stupid. Now that I’m smart, I love it. “Reader, I forgave him….” Oh, I was in tears. (Okay, I cry all the dang time at books. One of these days I’ll be crying over something in real life, and my family will just not blink, because they’ll assume my head is, again, as always, in a book or a movie. But these tears were realer than the rest! They were Velveteen Rabbit tears!) Anyway, I had forgotten large swathes of this novel – all of her school years, much of what brought Jane and Mr. Rochester together to start with, the annoying neighbors. (Mad women in attics and a little bit of transcendental communication will knock other details right out of the mind.) And I don’t think I’d ever noticed just how awesome a female Jane Eyre is. She’s far more the arbiter of her own fate than I’d realized, and I delighted in getting to know her strength and intelligence and morality. And the humor between her and Rochester! Such fun. I’m very glad I gave this another chance. (Now, will I do the same for Wuthering Heights? Reader, stay tuned!)
Madeline Miller’s debut, The Song of Achilles, is more a fleshing out of the lives of Achilles and Patroclus than a retelling of the Iliad, though of course the Trojan War comprises a great deal of the novel. We meet Patroclus, the narrator, when he is five and first encounters the depth of his father’s disapproval of him and the height of golden potential that is the five-year-old Achilles. Patroclus spends a few dismal years disappointing his kingly father before being disowned and sent off to foster with Achilles’s father, King Peleus. It takes time for the resentful and jealous boy to make peace with the glory that is Achilles, but soon they are intimate friends. The sea goddess Thetis is Achilles’s mother, and she is not best pleased that her son has taken an ugly mortal as his boon companion. The whole ‘mom’s disapproval of teenage son’s friendships only brings them closer’ thing is clearly at play here, and Achilles will not be separated, even when Thetis sends him off to be educated by the centaur Chiron. It turns into a golden idyll for the young men, and the exploration of their physical love for each other. Then Helen is kidnapped, and Greece goes to war against Troy. Fate sends Achilles to battle, to wrestle with his destiny and prophesized death, and Patroclus remains at his side. What I loved about this book – the reverting of Achilles from legendary warrior to sweet kid, the view of him through the eyes of a loving friend who doesn’t love war, the easy prose. My husband (who teaches the Iliad) snorted at the ‘they were lovers’ angle, but for us modern mortals who don’t ‘get’ godly motivations as well as the ancients did, adding the upset and jealous mom to Thetis’s relationship with both men was interesting, and effective. Note to self: approve of my kid’s romantic choices, or risk his rebellion.