This post contains MAJOR spoilers for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. [Initial review on GoodReads.]
I’m not good at keeping up on what’s cool in the literary world. I don’t pay much attention to the New York Times Best Sellers List and I delete the recommendation emails that Amazon sends me. I typically do pay attention to my GoodReads recommendations, but those aren’t usually What’s Hot in books right now. That being said, when my roommate started talking about wanting to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the title struck a chord. It was one I’d seen on Tumblr, on my Twitter feed, on my friends’ Facebook status updates. I looked it up, read the summary, and then watched the movie trailer.
I was intrigued.
So once AR was finished with it, I snatched it off our bookshelf and started in. It’s been a long time since I last read a mystery or a thriller, and I had accordingly forgotten how easy it is to speed through them when they’re written well. I finished Gone Girl in just a few days, eagerly devouring page after page in between shifts at work, time with friends, and much needed time spent sleeping. Every time I had to put it down, I was irritated at the inconvenience of not being able to keep reading. Flynn’s prose sucked me in, and while I expected it to chew me up and spit me back out — what else are Best Selling Thriller Novels meant to do? — I didn’t expect it to fuck me up quite so much.
Here’s the thing about this book: despite how wonderfully well written and constructed it is, I really don’t think I liked it one bit. I finished it last night at 1:30 a.m., well past my bedtime (but I was so close to finishing that I absolutely had to know what happened) and wrote a quick review on GoodReads that mostly just cataloged my initial reactions. I wasn’t sure what to think. I was a ball of emotion. I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’m still a ball of emotion. This book is terrifying. And while I really, really loved it, I also kind of hated it. Let me see if I can explain.
For those who don’t know, Gone Girl narrates the story of the disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne, who’s gone missing on the morning of her five year wedding anniversary. Naturally, her husband Nick is the primary suspect, and the book is mostly written through his point of view. His narrative chapters alternate with supposed entries from Amy’s long-held diary for the first section of the book. In the second section, we find out that nothing is quite as it appears (dun dun dun), and in the third, everything gets a little bit extra batshit.
My primary problem with this book was the fact that I read all of Nick’s chapters in the voice of Ben Affleck, the actor playing him in the upcoming David Fincher film. This didn’t really help my attitude toward him, since most of the time when I see Affleck in films, I end up hating him. Of course, that makes this casting pretty brilliant. Nick is in no way a likeable character. He’s completely stoic, all too calm about the disappearance of his wife, smarmy in his head and even smarmier out loud. Many aspects of this book are predictable, like the fact that Nick is (shocker!) cheating on his wife with one of the students in the class he teaches at the local junior college. The narrative of the cheating husband who’s killed his wife and is failing in the role of Grieving Spouse is not new. So I knew, even when all signs seemingly pointed to Nick as the killer, that he didn’t do it. I also had a gut feeling that Amy was not, in fact, dead. Where would be the fun in that? Why would so many people be raving about this thriller that tells the kind of story that plays out in almost every true crime drama on television?
Let’s take stock: Nick is a cheater, the police have pinned him as their major suspect, and Amy is not actually dead. All of these elements are predictable, in my opinion. It’s easy to write those things off and compartmentalize them as you read Flynn’s book. But when the story twists, it twists hard. Discovering that Amy is a woman who’s faked her disappearance to get out of her marriage isn’t really a new story, either. We can add that to the list of predictable bits. But what Flynn has done is given us a character who’s a total sociopath — the subject of a series of best-selling children’s books written by her psychologist parents, in which Amy becomes Amazing Amy, the perfect prodigy child. It’s never completely clear who the real Amy is in this novel: Nick’s wife Amy, Amazing Amy, manipulative life-ruiner Amy, murderer Amy, or some bizarre combination of them all. She’s faked her disappearance and framed Nick for her murder, the story so air-tight that she’s been working out all of the details for over a year. Why? Because he’s cheating, of course. Might as well frame him for murder and give him the death penalty.
As the novel progresses, the real story behind what’s happened gets clearer and clearer. Simultaneously, the characters’ true natures become terrifyingly real. There’s nothing quite like reading a book where you never know, from page to page, where your sympathies will lie. By the time I closed the back cover of Gone Girl, my loyalties had completely changed from where they were when I opened the front cover. I had gasped and groaned and nearly torn pages in my eagerness to get from one to the next. This book took me on a ride that, while well-written and incredibly intricate, mostly just pissed me off. I didn’t like any of the people in this book, save for Nick’s twin sister Go (short for Margo) and some of the secondary characters, like his mom (who’s not actually present in the book, only thought about). I have no desire to know what happened to them after the book ended, and that’s why I sort of hated this book.
That being said, maybe I do wonder what happened with Amy and Nick and their unborn child — a little boy, supposedly. But I also don’t want to get any more involved with the Dunnes and the twisted, disturbing parts of their lives and marriage that are so flagrantly detailed in Gone Girl. Flynn has created a story that stars characters that fucked me up so badly as a reader that I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stop thinking about this novel for the next year. For that, I congratulate her — as I’ve mentioned several times, Gone Girl is incredibly well written. I completely understand the hype surrounding it, and despite (or maybe partially because of?) Ben Affleck, I’ll definitely be seeing the film. (Rosamund Pike as Amy is also a flawless casting decision; I’m really interested to see how she handles such a complex role.) I’ll recommend this book to people I know who like thrillers and probably even some people who don’t. But even with all of that said, I don’t think I can honestly say that I liked this book. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt that way, and it’s a weird thing for me. I’m still trying to process it.
Overall rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: people with strong stomachs