I recently struggled to write my review of The Dark Knight Rises for fear that I would say too much and give away crucial plot points. I find myself in a similar situation trying to review Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl… To be honest with you, I’ve started this post four or five times. I try to approach reviews of books in particular genres from different angles, but even trying to classify Gone Girl poses problems. Is it a crime thriller? Yes–someone is missing and readers are presented with all the familiar puzzle pieces to solve the mystery: a wide pool of suspects, a crime scene, and a back story riddled with clues and red herrings. But unlike so many novels that stick to the formula, in Gone Girl Flynn throws away the rule book and along with it throws away everything readers thought they knew about modern psychological thrillers.
The story is told in two parts. In part one, “Boy Loses Girl”, we meet Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne. Married for five years and currently living in Nick’s childhood town Carthage, Missouri, both Dunnes were fired from their respective professions in the fallout from the global financial crisis. The story opens on the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary — a day filled with all the promise of young love that is tragically torn apart when Nick returns home from work to find signs of a struggle and his wife missing. The girl is, in fact, gone. Without any tangible evidence, the police follow procedure and naturally suspect the husband. Because it’s always the husband. Or is it?
Chapters move from present day Nick, struggling with the disappearance of his wife and the mounting pressure from the police who have no other viable suspects, and alternate to diary entries from Amy, detailing the early days of their marriage. While the picture Amy initially presents is one of pure wedded bliss and happiness, it soon becomes evident that all was not well in the Dunne household. Burdened by the pressure of losing their jobs, and compounded with the failing health of Nick’s mother and father, the Dunnes leave their magnificent New York life behind and move to Carthage, a town torn apart by the recession, to help care for Nick’s parents. The move takes its toll on the Dunne’s failing marriage and as Nick becomes increasingly distant and Amy becomes increasingly paranoid that it’s all falling apart, it becomes clear that things are not what they seem between the couple. Amy and Nick are lying to each other. They are keeping dark and disturbing secrets from each other. In a perfect world, the truth shall set you free. In the Dunne’s world, the truth means peeling back layers until the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain. And that is what will keep you turning page after page until you reach the end of this mesmerising and evocative work of fiction.
What captivated me most about Gone Girl is exactly what delighted me about S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep — Flynn, like Watson, dares to ask uncomfortable questions about one of the most familiar institutions in the world: marriage. But what really makes up a marriage, and what tears a marriage apart? What forces eat away at a marriage, destroying it bit by bit, until all you are left with is something toxic and poisonous to its very core? On the one hand, Amy’s increasing paranoia at the state of her marriage touched something incredibly personal within me — how can you determine the lengths you would go to when the person you care for most is slipping right through your hands? On the other hand, Nick’s increasing frustration that the woman he is married to is not the woman he met touched a real fear of mine — how possible is it for people to grow and change together before they begin to grow and change apart?
While on the surface they may appear to have it all together, Gone Girl is a disturbing look into the lives of two people who blend truth and lies into an unstable and unsustainable base for a marriage. By touching on real fears and real insecurities that are alive and kicking in a relationship, Flynn has written a powerful novel that transcends the modern crime thriller genre into something new entirely. The twists and turns will surprise, delight, and terrify you and perhaps at the end, help you appreciate your relationships with those around you just a little bit more. I sincerely hope, for your sake at least, that they are in a better state than the Dunne’s.