As you’ve probably seen, we’ve been talking about Gone Girl a lot on Bibliodaze lately, and with good reason. It’s a gripping thriller with a unique narrative, a twist on a familiar tale and tackles a number of themes with bleak humour and tension as taut as piano wire. Inevitably, when a book becomes popular, demand for similar stories rises, and publishers hunt for a title that will grab the public’s interest in the same way. Lightning seldom strikes twice in such instances, but for those eager to quash the post-Dunne blues, we have a few suggestions.
Dare Me by Megan Abbott: Abbott’s crime novels have primarily been homages to the pulp genre, and this book follows a lot of those tropes, but switches the setting to that moat devious of subsets – a cheerleading squad. Many jokes have been made about the not so secret darkness of high school, but few have captured the complexities of female adolescence with such accuracy and, more importantly, understanding quite like Dare Me. The crime element of the story takes a backseat to the dramas of female friendship and a cheerleading teacher whose involvement with her students goes beyond the professional, but there’s enough here to keep you compulsively reading.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison: The novel on the list that arguably has the most in common with Gone Girl, Harrison’s only novel before her death is a more clinical take on the drama of marriage and the roles men and women take on in order to survive. Jodi and Todd are, on the surface, the perfect upper-middle class couple, unmarried but seemingly committed to each other in every way. If that relationship requires a little denial now and then, that’s perfectly healthy because we all do that, but when Todd leaves Jodi for a much younger woman and leaves her with nothing, she decides to exact her revenge. Less a plot driven thriller than a satirical examination of WASP life, The Silent Wife was practically made for Gone Girl fans (it even advertised itself as such).
Lesbian Pulp Fiction: The Sexually Intrepid World of Lesbian Paperback Novels, 1950-1965 edited by Katherine V. Forrest: This is a bit of a personal choice because I devoured these stories when I was studying queering fictions in university, and I’ve written about them before here, but these are also the perfect reading choice for crime lovers who want a little historical context for their favourite genre. Loved equally by pulp loving straight dudes and dissatisfied closeted gay women, these cheaply produced paperbacks populated many a hidden shelf, telling the scandalous tales of life in all-female barracks and the predatory gay women who seduced helpless femmes. While some stories are more sympathetic than others (there’s really only so much progressiveness you can get from a 1950s era book called Satan Was a Lesbian), this collection shows the real radicalism present in the genre. A good choice for lovers of bad women.
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller: Flynn has previously talked of Heller’s novel’s influence on her work, so it’s a necessary inclusion as well as a darkly enjoyable one. Imbued with the same gallows humour of Gone Girl, Notes on a Scandal is ostensibly a tale of a high school teacher who becomes embroiled in an affair with a 15 year old student, but the real focus is on a fellow teacher, the older and calculating Barbara, who traps her friend in her web and refuses to let go. It’s as much a story of loneliness as it is one of obsession. The book’s subtitle What Was She Thinking? Says it all.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith: By the author of The Talented Mr Ripley, Highsmith’s novel was originally published under a pseudonym and sold as “The novel of a love society forbids”. This novel has everything – adultery, forbidden lesbian love, a little stalking, blackmail, and descriptions of the 1950s that almost make you nostalgic for the era. The Price of Salt was ignored for a long time but has begun to receive much overdue critical acclaim beyond its status as a gay cult classic. Here’s hoping the upcoming film adaptation Carol, starring Cate Blanchett, helps.
In The Woods by Tana French: The first novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series, French’s novel is the perfect combination of psychological thriller and crime procedural. Like the best crime stories, this one doesn’t just focus on solving the murder: it’s equally, if not more, interested in looking at the consequences, particularly the way dealing with such darkness takes its toll on the investigators. The fifth book in the series was released this year so there is plenty to keep you going once you’re inevitably sucked in!