Call it a result of playground mean girl trauma, those prickly remnants of high school girl-on-girl crime, or feeling out of sorts in my own female skin, but I have always had trouble relating to female characters. Strange then, that it took psychopathy-personified Amy Dunne, to prompt a definitive female character love in this reader.
Don’t get me wrong. Prior to, I had quite a few female favourites. Claire Abshire from The Time Traveller’s Wife. Lisbeth Salander, kick-ass Millennium Trilogy anti-heroine. Hunger Games tribute, Katniss Everdeen. The list goes on. I admired these women, saw something of my own story in them. But, as a reader, I felt jaded. And then I cracked open Gone Girl and met Amy Dunne.
I think a lot of readers were most likely introduced to Gillian Flynn through this, her third novel. It was, of course, an instant bestseller and lit a fuse that sparked the more popular than ever domestic noir trend. It is a menacing, uncomfortably intimate portrait of a marriage gone awry, and it made me fall in slightly morbid love with a new type of female character: intriguing, intelligent and very, very bad. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I needed to find a scorned and unapologetically calculated woman on the page. And Gillian Flynn delivered. She made me love a female character.
I have since added her older titles to my collection, as well, and her women have continued to enthral me. In Dark Places I found Libby Day, cracked and broken. “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ,” Libby says. “Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.” And reading that I knew, that as a flesh-and-blood woman, I have felt that same meanness. I have spent many nights taping over my own cracks in the dark, polishing them to present a flawless delusion to the world. And reading about Libby Day, I felt like just maybe it would be okay to show those cracks sometimes.
In Sharp Objects, Flynn’s debut, I was gut-punched by the dysfunctional mother-daughter dynamic between Adora, Amma and Camille Preaker. Another deeply emotionally unhealthy set of women. There is a line in this novel, which reads to the effect that not all women are fit to be mothers and not all girls are fit to be daughters – and again, I related. I needed to see the lack of motherly instinct, the opposite of what is seen as feminine. And I loved those characters. For being flawed and dangerous, to each other and themselves.
Womanhood is brutal. It’s frightening to be judged and stereotyped. By society, by men, often by ourselves. I think that’s why I appreciate the bravery of painting women in the often unflattering light Gillian Flynn does. I think there’s something necessary in encountering this type of female character, of delving into the darkness and the unthinkable. Perhaps we all need to find our own brand of flawed and dangerous.