Confession: I have avoided Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because it seemed a little too well-liked by some of my peers. It’s not a rigorous or particularly mature position to hold, but I’ll grab onto almost anything that gives me license to not read a must-read, especially when there are so many books I’d like to get to, if only I could find the time. But I have no excuses for how I described the novel to my viewing partner, when we saw it flash on screen in an episode of Orange is the New Black: Oh, that was a big book for lady New York Times readers this year. (Of course Chapman was reading it.) And then, reading Mary Gaitskill (yes!) on the title, I’m beginning to double back and question myself. Spoiler alert: Gaitskill found the book far from perfect, but it’s in the way she walked through this terrain that’s got me thinking perhaps I’ve missed out.
Speaking of deft literary criticism, Ruth Franklin was interviewed in Prospect about her practice, and her take is a delight. Permit me to excerpt this snippet, in answer to a question about her review of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom:
I often think of the Orwell essay “In defence of the novel.” Orwell complains that the novel is “being shouted out of existence” by the inflation of praise, and he writes that “to apply a decent standard to the ordinary run of novels is like weighing a flea on a spring-balance intended for elephants.” His view is that since all novels published at a given moment are basically fleas, critics are forced to recalibrate their thermometers to judge the difference between one flea and another flea, making distinctions that aren’t really important. Meanwhile, when a truly great novel comes along, it bursts the thermometer that we are using to measure the fleas. With Franzen and Freedom, it seemed to me that here we have a flea that is being treated as an elephant. That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the flea—it’s perfectly good as fleas go—but to regard it as an elephant is to lose our grasp of what a really great novel is.
The whole enterprise reminded me of Lemonhound’s wonderful little questionnaire/column On Reviewing. Also, I’d like to nominate Sina Queyras for Tweet of the Week: “Some of my best friends have opinions.”