Who are you?
What have we done to each other?
These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.
So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?
I’d been meaning to read Gone Girl for quite some time, ever since it first came out in May of last year and created quite a storm. Everyone I spoke to seemed to love it, critics praised it, Goodreads got a bit obsessed with it and I must have had it recommended to me over 12 times on twitter, all by different people. Shamefully it got lost among my ever-growing TBR pile, and I only remembered about it last week when I saw it was part of the Waterstones Buy One Get One Half Price deal – at which point I finally decided to give it a chance!
I started Gone Girl expecting to fall in love with it immediately, given all the hype it received and my weakness for thrillers/crime investigations, but instead found myself about 50 pages in, despising both of the central characters and most of the fringe ones as well. I found Nick to be self-centered, short-tempered, cold and bitter, and his missing wife Amy whiny, spoiled, manipulative and shallow. Nick’s viewpoint was narrated in the present tense, beginning from the day he discovered Amy’s disappearance whilst Amy speaks to us in alternating chapters through her diary, beginning some years earlier when she and Nick first met and constantly flicking between the past and present. One thing that becomes clear immediately is that Nick and Amy were by no means a perfect couple, their marriage was swamped in trouble and neither seemed to like each other all that much. So when it transpires that she has gone missing, it’s easy for their fellow characters and indeed the reader to point the finger at Nick – an accusation that Flynn does little to dispel, including unnerving excerpts from the minds of both husband and wife that seemingly support this immediate thesis.
Part One of Gone Girl details the investigation from D-Day (Disappearance Day) on-wards and in doing so slowly unravels the Dunnes’ dirty laundry, revealing their troubled history and dark, bitter secrets. I found it hard to decide who I despised more, and blamed this for the fact that despite Gone Girl being fabulously well written and incredibly clever, I just didn’t like it. I was feeling a little surprised and disappointed about a third of the way in, and like I was missing something – had everybody else who’d read this book seen it in a different way than me? I aired my hesitant thoughts on twitter and actually found myself reassured by Sarah and Amanda who said that they most definitely hated the characters too, and found the whole situation a little bit ‘off’. But the crucial point, they said, was that it was supposed to be. You were supposed to feel uncomfortable, angry and unsettled. I decided to keep going because I hate to give up on a book unless it really is a lost cause, and there was a part of me that desperately wanted to know how this impossible and suspicious sounding disappearance was pulled off, and who really was to blame.
Over the rest of Part One, I veered between suspecting Nick, then believing whole-heartedly in his innocence, to suspecting Amy, to fearing murder, to being convinced of abduction. The toxic wasteland that was their marriage grew darker and darker as Amy revealed more and more about day-to-day life with Nick through her hidden diary, and it transpires that from day one, both were masters of deception, each wearing a mask in front of the other, each being someone altogether a bit different from the person they displayed to the world. The dark truths that are revealed go some way in explaining Amy’s disappearance, but still you are left without a clear perpetrator or even a clear idea of what happened. This is usually a mark of a good thriller to me, if I am continuously kept guessing with no clear pointers one way or the other, but with Gone Girl I found myself being annoyed at this very aspect – I thought Part One took too long to get through, at points it was like wading through treacle, with Nick and Amy’s contradictory memories tying up in knots and not quite being satisfactorily unraveled. I started to get impatient for the twist that I was sure MUST be coming, and hoped that it would be worth the struggles and uncertainty I’d felt about the book so far.
Happily, the twist arrived almost immediately after beginning Part Two, and arrived with such a force I physically put the book down and had a quick marvel at the brilliance and ingenuity of Gillian Flynn. Obviously I won’t be saying what it is, but it’s GOOD. Extremely good. And well worth the wait. It also explains, finally, WHY you were kind of meant to hate Nick and Amy. If you hadn’t hated them, Amy especially, the twist and the rest of Part Two wouldn’t be as shocking or gripping or pure WTF as it is and needs to be. I can safely say I have never enjoyed hating a fictional character as much as I hated Amy, with the exception of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter (and really, who can honestly say they DON’T use her as a comparison point of all evil?) As Nick continues Amy’s treasure hunt his guilt appears to be more and more obvious, but still a body is never found, and obviously as a reader we are partial to Amy’s viewpoint, which has taken such a momentous turn from Part One it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same person. And that’s the beauty of Gone Girl – the twists and changes draw you in so deeply you end up screaming inside your head at the book, first at Nick, then at the police, then at Amy, then at yourself for allowing yourself to be taken in by someone you’ve always professed to despise and mistrust. And Flynn doesn’t leave it there – wrapping up this whole sordid business, another monumental twist is introduced, almost as large as the first and by all means equally as devastating.
The actual ending itself found me in such a fit of rage, confusion and despair mixed with a small but genuine touch of fear – Gone Girl is so incredibly true to life and realistic in places that it’s entirely possible what happened in it could happen in real life, and believe me when I say that that single thought is one of the most unsettling and chilling feelings I’ve probably had upon finishing a work of fiction. In most thrillers, no matter how well written or different they seem on the surface, certain tropes are nearly always met – an inner city murder, drugs, family feuds, lies, grisly abuse and well kept secrets – but as realistic as these things are, we know it’s just another cop drama and everything will be alright in the end. In Gone Girl, not to give anything away, but everything most definitely isn’t alright in the end. And it isn’t a run-of-the-mill thriller. The setting is much closer to home, with the overall feel being more similar to a contemporary novel gone bad than a typical thriller. And it’s the ‘gone bad’ bit that goes really bad.
Gone Girl cuts close, and it’s scary. It’s brilliant and edgy and clever and a little bit slow at times, but it’s genuinely scary. I started it by not really liking it, but having finished it, in the end, this is what I liked most about it. I hated it because I was supposed to, and it’s a clever author who can do that. A risky tactic, but for me, one that paid off. I’m still thinking about Gone Girl two days after finishing it, and it still creeps me out. Not for the faint hearted!