by Gillian Flynn
496 pages, Phoenix
Review by Pat Black
There’s this film out now, directed by David Fincher, and it’s based on this book… What’s that? You know all about it?
Och, let’s have a review anyway.
I liked many things about Gone Girl. It’s about Amy and Nick, a married couple in their 30s who work in the media. She’s got lots of money, he doesn’t. After they both lose their Manhattan-based jobs as the economy takes a tumble, they have to bin the skinny lattes and cancel the cocktail lunches and head to Missouri, partly to look after Nick’s sick mother, partly to forge a new life running a bar.
Amy, New York to the core and the Ivy League daughter of two successful children’s authors, isn’t very happy about this. But she plays along, being the good wife.
We know Amy has gone missing from the earliest parts of the book. It’s split into two separate first-person narratives, one following Nick from the immediate aftermath of Amy’s sudden disappearance, and the other composed of fragments of Amy’s diary, seeded from the earliest parts of their relationship in the mid-noughties.
It doesn’t take long to spot that they’re a pair of fibbers. A key discussion topic for a million book groups examining this novel would almost certainly be “unreliable narrators”.
The central premise for Gone Girl quickly becomes: Has Nick murdered Amy? And if he didn’t, what happened to her?
Flynn’s narrative is a slinking cheetah in the long grass, biding its time and drawing blood with each swipe. With the sure-footedness of Agatha Christie, she lays out a series of characters, every one of whom could have a part to play in whatever grand deception is being concealed. Nick’s twin sister; his ailing father; Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend; her same-sex high school stalker; and many more. Each suspense beat is perfectly timed. It’s the sort of book you close over at night halfway through the chapters, because you’re too tired to go on – never at the natural chapter endings.
I felt a bizarre sense of regret that I was reading this at home, instead of at the beach – it’s a perfect holiday book, even if it does cause you to narrow your eyes at your other half from beneath your sunnies.
How well do you really know your partner? That’s what I’d probably put on the cover, if I was the blurbs guy for Gone Girl. Gads, what a truly ugly, despicable question.
Aside from the twisty turny plotty pits and traps, it is a “he said/she said” story, the kind which will endure so long as women and men are interested in each other. It didn’t even have to be about a disappearance; the central relationship in the novel, and all the ways in which it becomes brittle and finally fractures, was absorbing enough on its own. If you’ve ever experienced a relationship that died horribly – and who hasn’t these days? – Gone Girl will serve as a reminder of all those little accident blackspots you thought you’d forgotten.
When I first considered this review a few weeks ago, I took a rather sour view of some people’s reactions to the story, as realised on the big screen. I noticed on Facebook that some women took an extreme dislike to Amy, with her hard-wired upper-middle class manners and her attitude towards her husband. I wondered if there was an element of defensiveness in this.
But I held back on this observation when I realised that I recognised plenty of myself in Nick – or at least, the person I used to be roughly a decade ago. Stumbling home at all hours in the morning; drinking; adolescent in behaviour and outlook; still playing video games; becoming fatally detached from his relationship (and with good reason).
Perhaps it’s the horror of broken partnerships that really fuels our fascination with this novel. No-one is who they seem; no-one is who they really want to be.
The recession/credit crunch/whatever you want to call it is another big component of Gone Girl. An empty shopping mall in the Missouri town where Amy vanishes haunts the early part of the proceedings, grim and malevolent as any gothic castle, a wind-whistling tomb of modern capitalism patrolled by shuffling zombies. Nick and Amy were employed to write nonsense lifestyle/leisure clag for the newspapers and magazines market, only to find that there was no magazines market left as the noughties wore on and people began to get their information, top-ten lists and indeed book reviews off the internet.
Bewildered and broke, Nick and Amy confront the awful realisation that they have no skills or special talent, save typing; that their Manhattan lifestyle has not equipped them to survive out in the big bad world; that they don’t really matter.
Even the security of Amy’s parents is taken away, as they too fall on hard times, with trust funds and savings evaporated in the space of an afternoon. This scenario, this distinctly un-American sense of economic hopelessness, was another frightening facet of a cynical, but brilliant popular novel.