The Next Chapter

If you liked Gone Girl, you'll love...

Our columnist Victor Dwyer recommends a CanLit alternative to Gillian Flynn's runaway bestseller.
If you were fascinated by the narcissism of the lead characters in Gone Girl, you'll find a lot to love about the self-involved character at the heart of Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life.

The 2012 bestseller Gone Girl has spawned many imitators. One of the things that makes Gillian Flynn's dark thriller stand out is the fascinating psychology of the married couple at the centre of the story. The Next Chapter columnist Victor Dwyer was struck by the way the narcissism of the protagonists drives the plot, and he's found a Canadian book in which narcissism also plays a big role.

Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life was a finalist for both the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book (Canada and Caribbean region). 

The extreme narcissism that drives Gone Girl

Gone Girl is the story of this demented marriage and its two twisted protagonists. Amy, the wife, appears to me to be an A-1 narcissist. She's completely manipulative and determined to be the centre of attention. She writes in her diary that her whole life has been putting on costumes and being an actor in a play in which she is the star. Everyone else is a bit player. She's very good at it and you're so drawn in. 

Her husband, Nick, is also a narcissist. He's this simple Midwestern dude from a working-class family, but he's physically gorgeous, he oozes charm, and it becomes clear from his own kind of minor confessions here and there and other things that happen that he married the beautiful, rich Amy, in many ways, in order to pump himself up. Amy is very grandiose in her narcissism — she has the whole country following her story, she has her husband going down in flames — but Nick quietly lives this very narcissistic life. He cheats on her, he uses his girlfriend and discards her when she becomes inconvenient. So it's a very interesting kind of folie a deux.

The narcissist at the heart of a CanLit favourite

Trevor Cole's Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life is one of my favourite books. The title character is an absolute narcissist. He's this late-middle-aged actor who hasn't performed in a union production for 12 years. His regular gig is doing voiceover work on a kid's show, and he gives that job up in a huff at the beginning of the novel. Norman is a man who's been plagued all his life by these mere mortals who have tended not to comprehend his singular talents. But now he's got to navigate to safety — he's got to give the performance of his life.

One thing I love about Norman Bray is that he's the kind of narcissist I think most of us know a bit better. There's the Donald Trump type of narcissist — chest-thumping, manipulative, slick. But Norman is just so blithely sure of his own superiority to the rest of us. Like Amy in Gone Girl, he couldn't care less about the rest of us, but he's endlessly scanning to make sure we approve of him and then dismissing our opinions when we don't.

Victor Dwyer's comments have been edited and condensed.