Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

I haven't read a mystery/thriller novel in ten years. Why? Well, even before I got wrapped up in the demands of my Literature degree I had gone off mystery stories for one main reason: predictability. I found the plots were no longer able to sustain my interest because the structure felt formulaic. I openly admit that I was probably reading only a fragment of good mystery writing available, but that was my experience.

So when I heard about Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, I had my reservations. However, like so many of my recent book choices - I saw that the movie was coming out and I wanted to hop on that pop culture wave. Let me just say - I'm really glad I did. I can honestly say that I haven't felt shamelessly hooked to a book the way I was to Gone Girl in a long time. I'm talking sneak-reading while I'm supposed to be getting ready to go out with friends; wondering what these characters were up to while I was at work. The entire journey felt justified...until the last couple of pages.

(Let me go ahead and get the spoiler alert out of the way: Spoiler Alert! There is no way to express my true thoughts on this book without divulging some of the details of the plot.)

In a quick summary, Gone Girl is a story about a woman who goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary and the clues quickly add up to indicate she was murdered by her husband. In Part One of the book we get the story in alternating first person perspectives. We follow Nick Dunne as the events of the investigation are unfolding as well as Amy Elliott Dunne through her diary entries from the day they met to just before she disappears. Right from the first chapter we are able to intuit that something isn't quite right with this domestic image. Nick muses over the perfection of his wife's head, the shape of her skull. Then he comes down to find her making crepes on their anniversary while humming the theme from MASH, "suicide is painless." This is not exactly an introduction to a pair of characters that makes you think they're normal.

Then we go through the paces of learning about Nick and the layers of lies he buries himself beneath in his ordinary life. The lies only intensify after Amy goes missing and he starts lying to the police. Nick's reaction to Amy's disappearance is also not quite "right." This makes him suspicious, and yet I didn't want to believe that Nick was capable of murdering his wife, who comes through her diary as a woman who realizes that the man she married is not the man she was with five years later. Amy's voice through her diary paints a realistic image of a marriage that is failing between two people who no longer know how to connect. I mean, that feels real, that sounds real! Not to mention the real relationship stressors like Nick and Amy both losing their writing jobs and then moving to Nick's hometown in Missouri to take care of his dying mother and diseased father. Another interesting component to the story that works well in understanding Amy's psychology is that she is the figure upon which her parents wrote the book series Amazing Amy. Her parents made a fortune and set up a trust-fund, but that fund has run dry with her parents' economic hiccup. So money has become a serious factor in the relationship, especially since Amy uses the last of the money to buy a bar for Nick and his twin sister Go to run. In a lot of ways, readers can understand how a relationship could run sour beneath the mishandling of emotions pertaining to all of these issues.

However, in Part Two, we find out that these two narrators we've been invested in reading about for nearly the first half of the book are completely unreliable. Amy is in fact alive and framing her husband for murder. Because you see, Amy is a highly intelligent sociopath. It is also in this part of the story that Nick realizes what Amy has done. Nick seems to come alive in this part of the book, and we get to meet the real Amy for the first time. After Nick wakes up to the fact that Amy is setting him up, he sits down to engage in the psychological chess match. These characters no longer seem like the victims of their own miscommunication in their marriage, but a sick pair of intelligent manipulators having a big fight beneath the eye of investigators and the media. Nick is challenged to out-think his wife so he can get her back and kill her for real.

Only that doesn't happen. And this is where the story got a little wonky for me. In Part Three, Amy returns with a brilliant and alarming story explaining her "abduction" and subsequent "escape." The reason Amy comes back is because she has seen Nick make the effort to get her back - he has said all the right things, he's done all the right things. However, she still figures out a way to manipulate the situation so that Nick stays with her despite everything she has done and everything he knows her capable of doing. Nick feels trapped and at the same time he also feels that Amy makes him better, sharper. Trying to keep on pace with her thinking keeps him alert and active in their relationship. This is exactly what Amy wants.

Except...I don't buy it. I know Nick fell out of love with Amy. I know Nick wanted to kill Amy. And now - he's just going to stay? Why couldn't he run off and live on another continent to escape her? I mean seriously, at the end - Nick seems like an abuse victim who is caught in a vicious psychological cycle and so he decides to stay. And maybe he is.

I get that Flynn's main point behind Gone Girl is that we never really know the person we're married to. As much as we might like to think we do, ultimately we're left wondering: What are you thinking, Amy? I've read a lot of criticism about this book, some readers don't even finish reading it because of the extensive internal thought narrative. I haven't read Flynn's previous two books, so I'm not sure if this is consistent with her writing style or if this was specific to this book. The choice to tell this story with alternating first person perspectives is actually the only way I think readers could ever be inside the minds of both these characters and take this ride. Nick and Amy are both intelligent manipulators and to play witness to their thinking allows a certain disturbing insight into how they are (possibly) meant for each other.

I also saw a lot of comments after I finished the Kindle version from readers who said they didn't want to read a book about spoiled rich people problems. I find this pretty funny considering money is a big issue in the story. The trappings of wealth have helped design Amy. And this isn't a book about spoiled rich people so much as it is a glimpse into the minds and marriage of two characters, one of which was at one point wealthy. If Amy hadn't been raised around wealth she wouldn't be the character she is and she wouldn't have the opinions she does.

Flynn has also been criticized for the way she depicts women in her stories. Apparently she doesn't paint them as angelic beings in full possession of goodwill and wisdom. How dare she! Women, like men, can be cunning manipulators. Flynn doesn't shy away from this exploration of the darker side of a woman's mind and heart, and I really admire that.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story. I thought the first part was disproportionately long in comparison to the other parts of the book and I wasn't totally convinced by Nick's change of heart in the end. Flynn is a great writer who pulls from pop culture and geography to ground her work in a time and place, and her psychology research makes this a text full of believable insights into the minds of sociopaths and manipulators.

I'm really looking forward to the film release in October, 2014. Ben Affleck plays Nick, which is just a fantastic casting decision. I'm curious as to how Rosamund Pike will play Amy, I haven't seen Pike in much so I am intrigued. I'm also really curious about the adaptation. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay, and with David Fincher as the film's director I feel like the dark tone of the book will not be lost in translation to the big screen.

For more info on the movie click here. 

1 comment:

  1. I love that you read this book! I think it was a well done review as well. I also had a hard time with the ending, so it will be really interesting to see what happens in the movie. Not so sure about Ben Affleck! It's nice to have in Flynn a strong female author with unique technique and who can write strong and also flawed females. I do not suggest reading Sharp Objects next... but Dark Places I think is the best out of her three!!!