Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn(George Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife Amy disappears. Nick insists he’s innocent, but the husband is often guilty in these cases, so suspicion is soon cast on him.
They certainly don’t have a happy marriage.
Amy’s diary shows a happy couple becoming dissatisfied, angry and unhappy, and describes a woman who fears that the man she loves now hates her.
But Amy is not simply the innocent victim of an insensitive husband – Nick’s side of the story reveals her to be extremely demanding, manipulative, and egotistical.
Both of them have such complex personalities, making their marriage a dark and endlessly fascinating thing.
I can’t say too much about the plot, but I will say something about the things I loved – the novel’s incredible mind games, the way it toys with genre, and the brilliant portrayal of a marriage gone wrong.
Flynn does a superb job depicting the intricacies of a crumbling relationship.
Between Amy’s diary and Nick’s first-person narration, you get a disturbingly intimate portrayal of their marriage: the nagging tensions, the way they manipulate each other, or neglect the other person’s feelings in favour of their own ideals.
Each feels like the victim, and both feel like the other person has turned them into someone they don’t want to be.
It’s the kind of story that anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship can appreciate. Nick and Amy are the extreme, but many people will recognise the little things people do to each other, the irrational expectations and inevitable disappointments.
One problem is wanting the other person to be someone they’re not, compounded by the fact that people typically try harder to give a good impression at the beginning of a relationship.
The novel explores the idea that people are constantly playing roles they’ve learned from the media:
I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say.
If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
Throughout the novel people play roles to get what they want, or to be viewed in a certain way. Nick has the opposite problem in that he’s getting caught in a role he doesn’t want to be seen to play – the husband who killed his wife.
He often fails to act the part of the devastated husband – he seems bored instead of concerned, or gives a friendly smile when he’s expected to be solemn.
As a reader, you can’t be sure of Nick either. He claims to be innocent and tells us little about what happened that morning, but we still have reason to suspect him. He keeps lying to the police, for example. Even as a first-person narrator, he keeps secrets from the reader, narrating in vague terms or avoiding certain topics.
When he thinks of Amy, he often thinks of her head – the back of her head, her skull, and even of opening her head up and “unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts”.
Even when Nick speaks affectionately, this recurring image evokes the idea of him sneaking up behind Amy and hitting her.
The novel is packed with details like this, so you’re constantly driven to contemplate what they might mean. You ponder not only the evidence, but the conventions of the genre.
Is Nick guilty or is that too much of a cliché? Or is the author using that cliché to toy with the reader’s assumptions about crime thrillers? What, or who, can you believe?
This makes for my favourite kind of mystery – one that gets you thoroughly entangled in little details. And Flynn is magnificently skilled at ensnaring the reader. She deceives you, surprises you, and shocks you, even in a genre that often seems predictable.
This novel got far more twisted than I’d expected and Flynn pulls you into its insanity with unflinchingly graphic style.
The ending will no doubt divide readers, and the amount of fervour and conversation it could stir up would make Gone Girl an excellent book club choice. It’s quite likely the best psychological thriller I’ve ever read.
Read more of Lauren's book reviews on her blog.
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