Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a breakout success, so much so that she is apparently writing a screen version of it at the moment. I have read her debut novel, Sharp Objects, and found it a cynical and bleak thriller about broken people who break others (that is not a complaint, by the way!). I am reading Dark Places at the moment and enjoying it. But Gone Girl is the one; the one that all the book groups are reading, the one that is on the shelves in the supermarket, the one that people ask you about as soon as they clock you reading it (“Ooh, what do you think of it?”).
The question is, does Gone Girl deserve the hype? On the whole, I’d say the answer is yes. The ending is not as strong as I’d like, but the first part of the book is an engaging mystery; the second part of the book hits you hard with a twist and then speeds off, leaving you breathless and desperately trying to keep up as it gallops towards the ending. I was absolutely desperate to know what happened and literally could not put it down, reading far later into the night than I should have just to find out more. This is a stylish, brutal, well-written book that catches you and toys with you throughout.
Gone Girl has an intriguing format that draws you in from the start, opening on the day that Amy Elliot Dunne disappears from the house she shares with her husband, Nick. Nick’s chapters, dating from the day Amy vanishes and going forward, are interleaved with Amy’s diary entries recounting the story of their relationship from the day they met up to the day she vanishes. Amy is the inspiration for a set of children’s books, the Amazing Amy series, written by her parents, and the Amazing Amy style and the magazine quizzes she now writes for women’s mags inform the way in which her diaries are written. Both protagonists write in the first person, so you come to know both Nick and Amy very well.
As an aside, I love the way that Flynn’s books have been packaged. The matt black covers with neon text and images (pink, green and, in the case of Gone Girl, orange) are smart, stylish and fresh-looking.
This is a great thriller that keeps you hooked up to the final pages. Although I found the ending slightly disappointing compared to the rest of the book, it’s only because the rest of the book was of such a high standard that the it was always going to be difficult for the ending to live up to my expectations.
SERIOUS SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP
SPOILERS BELOW (seriously, do not read on unless you have finished the book).
Readers of Flynn’s other work should not be surprised that Amy turns out to be more than the sweet, smart Cool Girl she initially appears. Flynn’s female protagonists tend to be dark, spiky and flawed. However, WHAT a twist! I did mourn the Amy of the diaries, whom I had grown to like very much, but this was a supremely confident piece of writing by Flynn, to write a character with such a strong and likeable voice, and then to reveal that Diary Amy is all the construction of a much more intelligent, much less likeable person with completely different motivations.
The reveal of Amy’s true nature makes sense of seeming inconsistencies (which one of them doesn’t want children, for example) and makes you question your sympathies (my sympathy for Nick was seriously challenged by the late revelation that he has a very young mistress, for example – only to find myself back on Nick’s side when I understood just how monstrous Amy’s plan was).
This is a book about twisted soulmates and about the power of knowing someone totally. At various times Amy and Nick both observe that the other one is the only one who knows them fully. In the final part of the book Nick and Amy descend into a symbiotic madness, where it’s no longer clear whether they hate or love each other (or both). They are equally obsessed, equally devoted to and full of hate for each other. Nick fantasizes about strangling Amy even as he plays the grieving husband for the media and the defeated loser for Amy. Having decided to destroy Nick to punish him for his affair and for believing her to be the Cool Girl she is playing at being, Amy then finds that she can’t bring herself to let go of the fight. I found it interesting that Amy’s original plan was to kill herself once she knew Nick would be blamed for her murder – another example of how the battle between them gives both her and Nick something to live for and more energy and motivation than either of them have had for a long time.
Amy’s interlude with Desi is chilling in showing the way in which even very weak people can commit evil acts when they have power over others. Although Amy is a psychopath, I had no problem at all with her murdering Desi – his passive aggression and soft, spineless, manipulative evil was in its way almost as bad as Amy’s more dynamic, assertive monstrousness.
At times Amy seems almost too prescient in anticipating Nick’s next move and I imagine there are weaknesses in the plot there if you want to go digging for holes, but as a dark and twisted psychological battle between two people, this book grips like a grippy thing. I found Nick’s final capitulation a slightly weak ending to an otherwise excellent book – I was expecting perhaps something more like the final scene of The Last Seduction, where as the hero remembers the final piece of incriminating evidence that might prove his story, the villain is shown destroying it. I suppose this is what Amy does with the reveal of her pregnancy – Nick’s plans for revenge come to nothing as he decides to stay with Amy and raise their child, a twisted version of the idyllic scene he imagines earlier in the book of he and Amy teaching their child the flags of various countries. However, Nick does get the last word (through Amy’s voice, of course!) when he tells her that he feels sorry for her because she has to wake up every morning and be herself.
Having read Sharp Objects and Dark Places, I think this is Flynn’s most accomplished book so far. She is clearly a writer to watch out for in the future – although there are only so many times you can pull a truly shocking twist (by the end of Dark Places, the third book of hers that I read, although second in order of publication, I was looking out for some of the Flynn traits, such as hidden family nastiness and women who are much darker they seem). This is a thriller that deserves its hype.