If you are an avid reader, you might have noticed a rising trend amongst recent psychological thriller bestsellers. Since the hit success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, there’s been a rise in what I call “the unstable woman” trope. Bestsellers such as Girl on the Train, The Secret She Keeps, The Woman in the Window and The Wife Between Us all utilise the same character-type: the lonely, generally unstable woman that the reader can’t trust.
Being the first in recent times, Gone Girl’s use of this stereotype was worth the hype, showcasing a complex female lead anti-hero that didn’t give a damn. But are we coming to a point where this trope needs to be sidelined in favour of creativity and suspense for the reader and give rise to more complex characters and action? After all, the reader is the one we have to impress…
In my opinion, we should scratch the singular protagonist. Add more main characters, more complex relationships, more chances to show a diverse range of personalities. The problem with this current trend is that it only allows for stereotypical paper-cut characters. The troubled wife, the abusive husband, the anxious recluse. With every new release, the action becomes more predictable, the character’s relationship more two-dimensional. Yes, Gone Girl did well in encapsulating a unique character, but we need to adapt as storytellers and add to this process.
The more characters, the better chance of representation. No one person encapsulates the opinions and attitudes of their gender, race, sexuality or religion. I’m bored of reading the same character in different books. The female leads from The Woman in the Window, The Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us and The Secret She Keeps all blur into one, self-deprecating character. There’s hardly any difference between the three of them. They all act the same, feel the same, and have the same abusive back-story. I love and yearn for strong female leads with complex and intricate motives, but I don’t want to read the same one over and over again. Diversity, people!
Don’t misunderstand me, some of these books listed are fantastic in their own right. The writing of The Woman in the Window is really exquisite. I relished the flow. But I don’t read stories for the nouns and metaphors. I don’t even read them for the story itself. I pick up a book for the characters. I love strong, well-established characters. And lots of them. That is the difference between a great story and a mediocre one. For me, anyway.
Maybe publishers should stop searching for the next and try to find the new.