Gone Girl is Gillian Flynn’s third book, a New York Times bestselling psychological thriller about the suspicious disappearance of a housewife and her husband’s attempts to find her. It was published in 2012, with a movie version released in October. If creepy, self-involved psycho-thrillers are your thing, I heartily recommend this book, but if you’re looking for a traditional mystery or a straight-up thriller, you may want to give it a miss.
The writing is intelligent and strong, the characters are complex and well-drawn, the settings are nicely evoked, and there are plot twists galore with a touch of sex and violence for spice. BUT the primary characters are completely unlikable, the mood is warped and claustrophobic and those plot twists finally become an improbable and unsavory tangle.
Amy Dunne disappears on the fifth anniversary of her marriage. Suspicion falls on her husband, Nick, leaving it to him to prove that he didn’t kill her, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Amy and Nick are both unappealing characters. As you get to know them better you like them less. The book is told from their points of view in alternating his and hers chapters. While this is very cleverly done, it also means that you see all the action through their warped minds. When Amy described gamblers in the parking lot of a third-rate casino as “a migration of the elderly, scuttling like broken insects on walkers and canes, jerking oxygen tanks toward the bright lights,” I winced at the painful image, admired the author’s skill with words, and thought how aptly she had expressed the perspective of her clever and stony-hearted narrator. I also wanted to close the book.
There are fleeting commentaries on economic decline, gender roles, and class friction, themes that could add depth to the book but instead merely provide a backdrop. In an interview with Jennifer Haupt for Psychology Today, Flynn says she wrote Gone Girl because she wanted to explore the concept of marriage, but the book doesn’t deal with marriage in any general sense. You don’t learn about Marriage with a capital M. You don’t gain insight into your own marriage. You don’t enlarge your understanding of human relationships. Instead you wallow in the bizarre machinations of an improbably warped woman in one particular marriage, and her tortuous relationship with her ultimately complicit husband. I wish I hadn’t lived inside the heads of this demented duo for an entire novel.
There are other weaknesses worth mentioning. The suspense takes a while to congeal. There are some plot complications that don’t make a great deal of sense. (I really wish Flynn had come up with a better device than the lake house episode to turn the action around.) The pace lags again toward the end. What? There’s another chapter? And another? Still, if the theme of diabolical vengeance in the intimate confines of a marriage gone horribly sour appeals to you, the flaws are probably not enough to outweigh the book’s real strengths. Go for it.
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (Crown Publishing Group, 2012), Kindle edition.