‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

Gone-Girl

Fiction – hardcover; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 416 pages; 2012.

Gillian Flynn‘s Gone Girl is one of those much-hyped books that I wasn’t sure I would like. Hence, I borrowed it from the library instead of forking out £10 for the hardcover edition. (The paperback isn’t released in the UK until next March.)

Admittedly, I wasn’t impressed when I first began reading it — it felt overwritten, too preppy and unconvincing. But when I asked the good people of Twitter whether I should continue reading, I received an avalanche of replies, mostly in the affirmative.

And I’m happy to report that I am glad I persevered. The book might not be perfect — indeed, it’s completely ludicrous in places — but it’s an enjoyable romp, with plenty of (unexpected) sharp left and right turns in the plot and a story arc that is far from conventional. In short, this is a fun, suspense-filled read.

A perfect couple

The story revolves around a seemingly perfect 30-something loved-up couple — Nick and Amy Dunne — who both lose their magazine jobs in Manhattan within a few months of each other. They move out west, to Nick’s home town in Missouri, to start afresh. Nick sets up a bar with his twin sister, Margo, and helps out his parents, both of whom are ill (his mother has cancer; his father Alzheimer’s), while Amy, who is independently wealthy, stays at home and does not very much at all.

On the surface, the couple appear happy, but behind closed doors all is not well.  And when Amy goes missing on the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary police suspicion falls on the emotionally disconnected Nick. But did he really kill his wife? And if he did so, what was the motive? And what did he do with the body?

Over the ensuing 400-plus pages, the reader is taken on a rather surreal roller-coaster journey as we follow the outfall of Amy’s disappearance and get an inside glimpse of a marriage between two very complex, needy characters full of contradictions: Nick is the perfect husband but harbours misogynistic thoughts; Amy is the dutiful only child but secretly hates the parents who dote on her.

Unreliable narrators?

The structure of Gone Girl is one of the most interesting things about this suspense novel. In alternate chapters, Nick and Amy take it in turns to tell their version of events, but it’s done in such a way that you are never quite sure which character is telling the truth and which one is lying. And just when you think you have things figured out, one of them does or says something that makes you change your mind. Nothing is entirely straightforward or clear cut.

But the novel is not perfect. Putting aside the fact that the concept of the plot is preposterous — don’t think about it too much and just go with the flow, is my advice — I found that there was little to distinguish the voices of Amy and Nick, so that I occasionally got them muddled up. It doesn’t help that Nick is not a convincing male character.

The prose also feels heavy-handed and overwritten. (On more than one occasion it reminded me of Tana French, who has the same tendency towards verbosity.) Initially, I wondered if it might simply be  a characteristic of Nick’s voice, but Amy’s voice was written in exactly the same vein so I suspect it’s just the way Flynn writes.

A masterpiece of plotting

But these are only minor criticisms. Flynn’s real strength — apart from turning the suspense/crime genre on its head — is her careful plotting and her steady drip-feed of new facts and admissions that make you constantly switch your allegiance from one character to another the further you get into the story.

Flynn is also very good at capturing modern America after the global financial crash of 2008 — most of Nick and Amy’s neighbours have defaulted on their mortgages, the local mall has gone bankrupt, hundreds of people have been laid off — and the way in which public opinion is determined by the media.

This is a fast-paced, incredibly well plotted and often surprising read. I have to admit I didn’t become truly hooked until page 144 when I was so alarmed by the turn of events I just had to keep turning the pages — and then I couldn’t stop. Gone Girl  is not exactly a pleasant read — the characters are nasty, manipulative, shallow and conniving — but it’s an addictive one.

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10 thoughts on “‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

  1. I had basically the same reaction (and opinion) of the book that you do, though I was capture by the plot much sooner than you were. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who found Nick not altogether convincing as a male voice. It really is a book with lots of problems, but it’s so much fun that I didn’t care.

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  2. Glad you liked this one Kim. I would agree with you that I think there are parts of the book that are ludicrous, but I let them go (and indeed the ending which seems to have really split people, but I won’t spoil) because I loved the way Flynn totally spun the genre on its head and inside out. I am going to read her other books and hope they do similar, though unexpectedly now I am sort of expecting them. I didn’t think Amy and Nick’s narratives were that similar though, I think that was another thing I liked about it – and the fact one voice wasn’t more interesting than the other, I wanted to follow both.

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  3. I agree that neither voice was more interesting than the other, but they were so whiny and self-obsessed and prone to long, convoluted sentences that I couldnt separate one from the other. Thank goodness there was signposting at the beginning of each chapter so you knew who was narrating 😉 I would have been flummoxed otherwise

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  4. *chuckle* that sounds like a resounding ‘maybe’ to me.
    You and and I are often on the same page with the over-hyped books so it’s a case of ‘if I see it at the library’ and ‘if I’ve got nothing else to do’.
    BTW Did you know that there is a university in Oz which has made mandatory reading for ALL 2013 first year students (no matter what course, there is no escape), your favourite and mine, yes, Jasper Jones? Can you imagine?

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  5. It turned out to be a great holiday read, but I still would have baulked at paying £10 for it!
    And yes, was it Sue’s blog where I saw about the mandatory reading list? I thought it was a great idea, but I don’t like that Jasper Jones is on it. I really truly do not understand the fascination / praise for that book. It’s sloppily written and in need of a good edit, but you already know that 😉

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  6. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I think 2012 will be my year of ‘unreliable narrator’ books. I don’t know who I disliked more at the end, Nick or Amy.

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