Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Published: 5 June 2012
Publisher: Crown Trade, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group
Genre: psychological thriller, mystery
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife Amy disappears. In the lounge are signs of a struggle – broken glass and overturned furniture. Nick claims to have no idea of what may have happened to his wife, but the husband is often the guilty party in these cases, and soon suspicion is cast on him.
Nick and Amy certainly don’t have a happy marriage. Both feel that they’ve become different people since they married, and they’re not happy with the changes. In addition to that, they both lost their jobs, Amy lost her trust fund, and then Nick moved them both from New York to his small hometown so they could be close to his mother, who was dying of cancer. Amy – a New Yorker – was miserable there, so their marriage deteriorated even further. Her diary tells a story of a happy couple becoming dissatisfied, disillusioned, angry and unhappy, and of a woman who feels that the man she loves has begun to hate her.
But Amy is not simply the innocent victim of an insensitive husband – Nick’s side of the story reveals her tendencies to be extremely demanding, manipulative, and egotistical. Both of them have such interesting personalities and it makes their marriage complex, dark and endlessly fascinating. Thanks to this, Gone Girl was an unparalleled psychological thriller, a pitch-black gem that I couldn’t help but admire.
I can’t tell you too much about the plot, as is usually the case with mysteries, but I will say something about the two things I loved most about this novel – its incredible mind games and the brilliant portrayal of a marriage gone wrong.
Flynn does an absolutely superb job depicting the intricacies of a crumbling relationship in all its awkwardness and muted pain. Nick narrates in first-person, relating the current story, while Amy’s diary tells the couple’s story from when they met, up until the present. With these two perspectives you get a disturbing and intimate portrayal of Nick and Amy’s relationship: the tensions between them, the wounded or cruel ways they talk to each other, manipulate each other, or neglect the other person’s feelings in favour of their own ideals. Each feels like the victim in their marriage, and both feel like the other person has turned them into someone they don’t want to be. Amy complains about this in her diary:
You are turning me into what I never have been and never wanted to be, a nag, because you are not living up to your end of a very basic compact. Don’t do that, it’s not okay to do.
I think it’s the kind of story that anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship can really appreciate. Nick and Amy are an extreme example, but many people will nevertheless recognise the little things people do to each other, their irrational expectations and inevitable disappointments.
One of the problems (in many relationships I imagine) is expecting the other person to be someone they’re not, compounded by the fact that people behave differently at the beginning of relationships when they’re on their best behaviour, so to speak. The novel explores the idea that people are constantly playing roles they’ve learned from characters in all the forms of media we live with. Nick ponders this as he becomes the object of people’s suspicions, and when considering the fact that his reactions to Amy’s disappearance often don’t fit the typical image of a devastated husband. He often seems bored instead of concerned, and sometimes he smiles when he should be solemn. Everybody has expectations about his behaviour for this situation, as people do for most situations:
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.
It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person instead of a collection of personality selected from an endless automat of characters.
And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul-mate, because we don’t have genuine souls.
This theme is strong throughout the novel. So often we see people playing roles to get what they want, to be treated or 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. In these kinds of stories, it’s always the husband who did it. The police are increasingly suspicious of him, and the media eagerly pounce on the sensational conclusion that he’s a murderer. Nick claims to be innocent, and his first-person narration tells us nothing about what happened to Amy that morning. And yet we still have reason to suspect him. He keeps lying to the police, for example. Even though he’s a first-person narrator, he keeps secrets from the reader too, narrating in vague terms or simply 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, the recurring image of Amy’s head evokes the idea of him sneaking up behind her and hitting her, and in fact he dreams of his wife, bloody and wounded on the kitchen floor, calling his name.
The novel is packed with details like this, some more subtle than others. Many things suggest that Nick is guilty, but other details imply that he’s innocent, so that you’re constantly forced to ask questions and ponder the evidence. Did Nick do it (whatever “it” is)? Or is that too much of a cliché? Or is Nick – and the author – using that cliché to deflect suspicion, so that it’s assumed it can’t be Nick because that’s just too obvious? And what the hell actually happened to Amy?
This makes for my favourite kind of mystery – the one that gets you really entangled in all the little details until you’re obsessing over a character’s gestures and choice of words. And Flynn is magnificently skilled at ensnaring the reader and never letting go and until the final page. She deceives you, surprises you, and shocks you, even in a genre that often seems to have exhausted its bag of tricks. The novel gets much darker and demented than I’d expected and Flynn pulls you into its insanity with unflinchingly graphic style. This is undoubtedly one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever read, and I have to have more.