Gillian Flynn's new novel is a summer sensation. People carry it to the beach. It is #5 on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Women's magazines (which I read at the hairdresser and dentist) are raving about it. So I bought and read it.
The writing is good, the characters interesting, the plot twists interesting and (by me, at least) unforeseen. Nick Dunne's wife Amy has gone missing. The marriage had deep problems, but just how deep they went only becomes evident as the plot twists and turns. I was thoroughly engrossed for the first three-quarters of the novel. Then something happens--not to the characters (although, that, too) but to the story. I don't want to give anything away, but for me the ending just did not work.
Really, really did not work. As in, the author betrayed her protagonist as she'd drawn him until then.
Wanting to know if I was alone in this disappointment, I began reading reviews of GONE GIRL on both amazon.com and the Web. I am not alone. Some people loved the book, some disliked the ending. Virtually nobody disliked the first three-quarters. But then I began to notice another thread among the negative reviews, one that has come up over and over again in the writing workshops I teach. Readers -- some readers -- disliked the book because "by the end, none of the characters were likable."
In my view, protagonists do not have to be likable, only interesting. But there is a large, LARGE group of readers of commercial fiction who think otherwise. For them, a book does not work unless they have someone to root for. So if you are writing a book that you hope will have commercial (as opposed to literary) potential -- make nice. Or else.