Delving into the trend for female protagonists in psychological thrillers
There seems to be an undeniable trend in recent literature towards exploring female characters in chilling, twisting tales. As a genre, the psychological thriller seeks to explore the workings of the mind when enduring emotional instability; the limits which we will go to in order to protect ourselves or others. As the generally more emotionally attuned gender, perhaps it was only a matter of time before women claimed the psychological thriller as our own.
Although women in suspense drama is nothing new (a due nod to Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier), well-drawn, flawed and strong female protagonists have been slower to realise. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn provides the accepted bench-mark for the appeal and huge success of this new breed of psychological thriller. Novelist Julia Crouch sought to explain it as a sub-genre of crime fiction which she labelled ‘Domestic Noir’; it explores the female experience in terms of the challenges of the domestic environment.
In Gone Girl, Amy Dunne presents an interesting character. The suddenly disappeared all-American girl next door is automatically presumed to be the character we should root for. Husband, and narrator, Nick’s failure to provide the picture-perfect grieving relative sets him up as someone to be wary of; his sincerity and slight introspection cast him as aloof. Perhaps most striking about Gone Girl, and maybe why it remains so popular five years after publication, is its brilliant use of unreliable narration. We are told the story through Nick’s eyes and his shortcomings are relayed only too clearly to the reader which results in suspicion of him and glorification of his “Amazing Amy”.
Unreliable narration is also used to terrific effect in Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train. Narration is passed across three perspectives; Rachel, an alcoholic bitter and still reeling from recent events; Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband; Megan, a lady who Rachel watches from the commuter train. All three characters accounts are skewed to her own perceptions and as their differing accounts weave into a tangled web of intrigue, the reader is kept guessing.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight similarly plunges us straight into a puzzle. Protagonist Catherine opens the book by her bedside but as she reads on, she recognises herself in the story; one she has spent twenty years trying to forget. It is a dark and twisty tale which we explore alongside Catherine as she is forced to reveal details to her loved ones. The dark, wincing realism within this clever concept will have you desperate to read on but scared to find out what happened all those years ago.
This ‘Domestic Noir’ branch of the psychological thriller looks set to continue its popularity. Already, Gone Girl has been adapted for the big screen and the film of Girl on the Train is currently in production. The trend is attracting more female writers who excel at exploring differences between appearance and reality; the dark secrets and compelling struggles within seemingly everyday life.