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THRILLER
Gillian Flynn
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $29.99

Every so often, a book comes along that has every kind of reader gasping with pleasure at its style and the anticipation of what's going to come next. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is told by two voices, his and hers: she's gone missing and the question that punches the reader between the eyes at the outset is whether or not he's knocked her off.

She's a vivacious golden girl, the daughter of a couple of authors of children's books that feature an idealised version of our heroine. He's a guy from Missouri who worked as a magazine journalist in New York. Now they're in his home town and things have been going bad.

Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn.

Gone Girl is a thriller that combines elements of very high-class chick lit with brashly inventive melodrama. It has at its centre a hell of a trick - one that violates rules of probability older and more obvious than Aristotle - but there's no getting around the fact that this is a story that manages to scintillate and snarl while having the power of conventional characterisation and a narrative hook that will have the smart girl in the office and the lawyer bloke hanging on her every word equally in thrall.

Maybe the girl particularly. Of the two voices, it's the missing woman's (revealed in the first instance by her diaries) that seems so vivid and alive.

Gone Girl belongs pretty high on the great mountain of trash that enthrals us all - up there with the first Harry Potter books or le Carre's Smiley or the early Hannibal Lecter novels. Well, maybe not quite as high as the early Thomas Harris or the best of le Carre, but Flynn does have the high and mighty quality of providing very pure entertainment that doesn't, in execution, seem coarse-grained.

And, in that sense, you realise, as this book sucks you in, that you are in the presence of one of those huge cultural phenomena that's going to be a Hollywood hit and become part of the air we breathe. It's also true that the book has the power of execution of a good film rather than the limpness of a lot of cinema-of-the-mind fiction.

Don't get me wrong, Gone Girl is a highly schematised bit of melodrama and Flynn plays on several more or less preposterous narrative moves that would sound remarkably silly if they were summarised. Fortunately for her, they can't be because it would be unfair to give away anything about this razzle-dazzle whirligig with the enigmatic faces of a man and a woman at its centre.

A lot of the incidental charm of the book, though, comes from the streetwise frankness of its girls' talk. Why shouldn't men, the heroine says at one point, be made to cavort with each other for the benefit of women's delectation? Why is it the girl who has to pretend to be cool, to chuck back the beer, to wait in vain for someone with a penis who can actually read Jane Austen?

A lot of Gone Girl is made out of snappy mouthfuls of air but it does have, on its surface and in its typology, plenty of red-blooded colour and the constant suggestion of subtlety and intelligence.

There's a fat, smooth lawyer who normally only appears for the guilty, an intelligent female detective, the odd white trasher here or psycho there - as well as some refined liberals - who are as familiar as the great America that stalks our dreams like a myth.

Reese Witherspoon is already set to film Gone Girl. For better or worse, this book is a gleaming magic mirror of just now, a book that's going to have the kind of stranglehold on the thinking woman's common reader that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did a couple of years ago.

If there's something a bit sick-making about the way this book turns out - and there is - a fat fraction of the world is going to feel the shiver and the sparkle of how it unfolds.