Psychological thriller Gone Girl, the American publishing sensation, is up for its first major literary award but faces the daunting prospect of derailing the all-conquering Hilary Mantel.
The page turner by Missouri author Gillian Flynn, which has sold more than 2 million copies around the world, is in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize.
Flynn told The Independent: “I was incredibly thrilled by the news. It’s really nice especially for someone who writes stories with mystery as they aren’t always recognised so widely. I feel really proud.”
Crime fiction has traditionally been overlooked at the biggest literary awards, but Gone Girl, a “whodunit revolving around a marriage” was today named among the titles on the 20-strong longlist.
“A lot of mysteries deal with very important and meaty and substantial issues. It’s great when we can embrace all different kinds of literature,” Flynn said. “More and more writers are pushing the genre.”
It is up against some heavy-hitting competitors including Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall, which has already won the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book of the Year. No author has won all three in one year.
“Flynn said: “Mantel was on all my favourite year-end lists. She is a brilliant glorious writer. I’m thrilled to be somewhere on that list beside her. It’s very cool.”
Despite clamours for Gone Girl to be recognised by literary judges in the US, where it was seen as a literary phenomenon second only to 50 Shades of Grey last year, up until now it had missed out.
Writer and activist Natasha Walter, who is on the judges panel for this year’s Women’s Prize, said the book’s inclusion had been “a subject of great debate” before adding: “The judges felt that while it was this big commercial success, it is a riveting thriller that just goes deeper.” She agreed that crime fiction was often unfairly overlooked for literary plaudits.
Gone Girl follows the disappearance of Amy Dunne, the beautiful and brilliant wife of Nick, just as their marriage has begun to splinter. As the police investigation and the media spotlight falls on Nick, dark secrets begin to emerge.
“This is the dynamics of a marriage gone wrong. How two personalities come together and come apart. I like the mystery genre as a way of telling that story,” the author said.
“It is a very relatable story for all of us who have been in long term relationships or marriage, although it does go beyond the parameters that hopefully we all deal. So many people have told me they have touchstones with different parts of the story.”
Independent on Sunday reviewer Dough Johnstone said Flynn was “at the front of the pack of American thriller writers,” adding the “characterisation, plot, dialogue, description and social commentary are all razor sharp”.
He added that if – as the Pat Benatar song goes – love is a battlefield, the main characters’ relationship was a “twisted, dangerous and bloody war zone”.
The dark tale is Flynn’s third novel following Dark Places and Sharp Objects, her debut which won two Dagger Awards in the UK. All three books are being adapted into Hollywood films.
Flynn, a former television critic, is building a fan club of fellow authors including Val McDermid and Kate Atkinson. Crime writer Mark Billingham called Gone Girl “amazing”.
As for Mantel “can you imagine if she had not made the longlist?” Walter said, before adding: “We will not be thinking about the other prizes in judging this one.”
Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote Flight Behaviour, and Zadie Smith, with NW, are vying to become the first to win the award twice this year.
This is the 18th year of the prize open to all women writing in the English language. Orange ended its sponsorship last year, and the organisers are expected to announce its replacement in the weeks before the announcement of the winner in June.
Shani Boianjiu has become the first Israeli author to make the longlist with The People of Forever are Not Afraid. Best selling author in Turkey Elif Shafak is also in the running for her seventh novel Honour set in her homeland and London about honour killings.