Gone Girl has been one of the most talked-about novels (mystery or otherwise) from the past year. Gillian Flynn’s third novel has received a great deal of love from book reviewers from various outlets, been much buzzed-about on social media and is set to become a motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon. Most crime fiction readers who haven’t yet read Gone Girl have almost certainly heard of it. And they are likely asking if a book this popular deserves such a buoyant response. The short answer is yes.
Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne. Unemployed writers, they move from New York City to Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri, in order to start over and care for Nick’s surly, ailing father. While both Nick and Amy have been reduced by job loss, Nick at least has his twin sister and childhood memories in Carthage. A lifelong Manhattanite, Amy has no connections to Missouri – except for Nick’s bar, paid for with the money from Amy’s trust fund.
These difficulties become material on the couple’s anniversary when Nick comes home from the bar to find his front door wide open and his wife nowhere to be found. The living room shows signs of a struggle, but Amy’s blood has been mopped up in the kitchen. Flynn has her finger on the pulse of 21st century scandal-mongering, and Amy Elliott Dunne is tailor-made to be a missing persons cause célèbre. The daughter of famous author parents, Amy was the basis of the famous Amazing Amy series of children’s books.
Amy Dunne is well-known, beautiful and sympathetic. The same cannot be said about Nick. During the first half of the book, his numerous flaws come to light as part of the investigation into Amy’s disappearance. It all seems rather damning for Nick, who finds himself lambasted on cable television and must hire a high-profile attorney and troubleshooter who specialises in defending suspicious husbands.
And while police investigate him, Nick must carry out his own investigation. He believes that Amy left a series of clues as an anniversary scavenger hunt. The police are not very receptive to Nick’s theory, but he is desperate to exonerate himself – even as he is being tried and convicted by the court of public opinion. Nick has his flaws, to be sure. But is he guilty of murder?
Gone Girl is a difficult book to summarise without revealing the whiplash-inducing plot twists that Flynn uses. The author switches between narrators, letting us hear Amy (via her diary) and Nick’s perspective in alternating chapters. Suffice it to say that things are not always as they seem, and there are no good guys. These may seem unremarkable clichés, but the author makes a taut, thought-provoking thriller out of them. More than that, Flynn presents a harrowing portrait of a marriage gone bad. Between them, Nick and Amy have a number of common flaws – and some glaring, uncommon flaws.
The plot machinations are not always plausible, but Gone Girl draws you into the story so deeply that you are not likely to worry too much about believability. Besides, you won’t know what to believe. Flynn makes masterful use of her two unreliable narrators, keeping readers off balance as we watch the tête-à-tête between Nick and Amy – and the latter is more than capable of holding her own, even in absentia.
In between the twists and turns, Gone Girl is a gripping meditation on disappointment. Both Dunnes are disappointed by their life, and by each other. Gillian Flynn gives us a harrowing psychological thriller, but also an exploration of quiet desperation, and the lengths to which people might go to regain some control of their lives. It is a novel of façades that inevitably slip. Combined with the high-octane plotting, it makes Gone Girl a potent thriller that will literally continue to surprise you until the last page.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
CFL Rating: 5 Stars