“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”
On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife Amy disappears and their home shows signs of a violent struggle. There are traces of blood but no body is discovered. What happened? Who killed Amy? Is she even dead? Just what is going on here?
Gone Girl is the third novel from former Entertainment Weekly writer Gillian Flynn. It is an entertainingly twisted thriller that is told from the perspective of both Nick and Amy. The chapters in the book alternate between Nick’s present day narration and diary entries from Amy in the past. Amy’s journal chronicles the couple’s initial meeting, their blossoming relationship and subsequently how their life becomes miserable after their marriage. Nick’s narration cover his initial panic and horror at his wife’s disappearance and his gradual desperation as both the police force and the media begin to suspect him of murder.
Author Gillian Flynn dips into her own career for source material when it comes to the strains on Nick and Amy’s lives. For many years Nick and Amy live a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle bolstered by Amy’s parents who made a lot of money publishing children’s books starring their daughter as the protagonist. This cushy lifestyle is brought to an abrupt halt when the GFC meltdown from a few years ago strikes. Both Nick and Amy are authors in rapidly diminishing industries – Nick is a film and television critic and Amy writes quiz columns for women’s magazines – and both suddenly find themselves out of a job when online journalism swallows print media whole.
Nick and Amy move back to Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri where they live a much more modest and mundane existence in a tiny rural town far removed from the glitz and glamour of their years in New York. Their relationship gradually sours as both resent one another passive aggressively for their poor fortunes. When Amy’s parents become ill and ask to ‘borrow back’ the money that they gave Amy, the couple are effectively left with nothing. From there, the mysterious events of the fifth wedding anniversary take place and Amy goes missing, presumed dead.
In case you ever wondered, I write any book reviews on The FAT Website under the tongue-in-cheek pretense of being a ‘book club’ but offline, there are times when I do like to read a book at the same time as a friend to share the experience of a good story. And if you’re ever inclined to do such a thing yourself, I’d highly recommend a book like Gone Girl. It’s a great book for stopping between chapters and comparing reactions and theories with a friend on what will come next.
Gillian Flynn has put together a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner here that rapidly throws cliff-hangers, unexpected twists and wild revelations at the reader with reckless abandon. Almost every chapter in this damn book finishes with a hook that changes the complexion of the story. This might make it sound like a cheap or chaotic read but I think Flynn manages to pull it off with real flair. I think she has a knack for selectively leaving out crucial information until just the right moment. I can’t imagine any reader guessing the direction that this who-dunnit will take and you’ll probably change your opinion of Nick and Amy multiple times throughout the book. Ultimately, Flynn doesn’t really shy away from making both of them intensely unlikable at times and yet they are both so strong in their convictions that I suspect most people will still end up rooting for one or the other by the end.
The other thing I liked about Gone Girl is how Flynn takes this wild, over the top story and grounds it in the context of some very contemporary themes. The book is set in present day (2012) and there are some interesting contemporary themes that are explored in the book: how traditional media can influence the handling of a criminal investigation, how social networking can influence the public perception of somebody accused of a crime, how gender politics in the media can influence a couple’s expectations of one another. The fact that this is all written from the perspective of someone who used to make a living writing for Entertainment Weekly of all things makes Flynn’s portrayal of the media all the more interesting.
For no particular reason, thriller novels aren’t really a genre I read particularly often. In the case of Gone Girl, I’m glad I did. It’s fun, keeps you guessing and has surprising depth and social commentary behind the madness.
The Sister’s Brothers by Patrick DeWitt – a fable set during the Gold Rush in the American Fronter where two hired guns, Eli and Charlie Sisters, go on the trail of an elusive prospector.
“I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for Charlie to come out with news of the job…”