gone girl

My teetering TBR pile and haphazard reading choices mean I always seem to reach the ‘must-read-book-of-the-year’ just after everyone else has finished reading and talking about it.

Gillian Flynn’s third novel, ‘Gone Girl’, is a case in point: hyped as THE thriller of 2013, I found myself reading it as we slipped into 2014. So was it worth the hype?

What’s it about?

On Nick Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, his beautiful wife, Amy, disappears, leaving a trail of evidence that increasingly incriminates Nick. As the police net inexorably tightens, Nick insists that he hasn’t harmed Amy and that evidence showing she was scared of him is incorrect. So what has happened to Nick’s wife?

What’s it like?

The first part is enthralling. The narration opens with Nick, who reflects on the shape of Amy’s skull and the coils of her mind, and seems to view breakfast with his wife as some kind of torture. Clearly, they are not a straightforwardly happy couple. Nick’s voice is engaging and honest – making it more shocking when he reveals that he is hiding information from the police.

Can Nick explain the cleaned-up blood on the kitchen floor? No. Can he explain the lady’s underwear in his office? No.

Flynn ratchets up the tension by keeping the pace of the investigation brisk. Can Nick explain the cleaned-up blood on the kitchen floor? No. Can he explain the lady’s underwear in his office? No. Meanwhile Nick is solving clues from Amy’s yearly anniversary ‘treat’: a treasure hunt that requires Nick to demonstrate his detailed knowledge of Amy and their last year together, in order to prove his love. Flynn cleverly builds up a sifting picture of their lives together as Nick reflects on events, recent and earlier on, that allow him to solve the clues.

Meanwhile, the narration switches between Nick’s attempts to solve Amy’s disappearance and brief extracts from Amy’s diary, covering the period of their courtship and marriage. This is a neat device that reveals the couple’s completely divergent views of their marriage and keeps suspense building.

the real focus of this dark tale of deceit is the conflict that has emerged between husband and wife

Then came the twist. Shocking, though not entirely unpredictable. Dramatic, requiring some adjusting of prior ideas. But plausible. And then there was a further twist…

I did enjoy reading this, but I always prefer my fiction firmly rooted in reality, and I felt that ‘Gone Girl’ moved from thriller to farce in the final few chapters. When any character becomes utterly unstoppable I feel it’s past time to close their story. Surely no-one is that powerful, that scheming, that untouchable in Real Life – so why should they get away with it in fiction?

Final thoughts

Initially a fiercely compelling read, I found my desire to read on ebbed a little in the final fifth of the book as the characters’ credibility was stretched too far. However, this is still well-worth a read for thriller aficionados and fans of stories with a psychological bent. Although there is a great deal of reference to the evidence that mounts against Nick, the real focus of this dark tale of deceit is the conflict that has emerged between husband and wife: its causes, its trajectory and the many petty victories claimed and endured prior to the ultimate collapse of their marriage.

‘Gone Girl’ is firmly a book of its time – our time – and as such I found the perspective developed on the media’s relationship with victims of crime appalling and concerning; for instance, Nick was justifiably concerned that his lawyer thought it best not to tell the truth at trial because it wouldn’t ‘read well’.

Similarly, it was interesting to read about the power-play in male-female relationships, especially (obviously) Amy and Nick’s. Does ‘cool girl’ really exist or is she a beloved male stereotype that some unsisterly women keep alive by playing the part? Do we inevitably hate the most those who love us the most? After all, only they know the real person behind the public mask.

And was it worth the hype? So far it’s definitely the best thriller I’ve read this year.

‘Gone Girl’
Gillian Flynn
Phoenix fiction, 2013, Paperback