Gone Girl

Gone GirlEvery year on their anniversary, Amy Dunne planned an elaborate treasure hunt for her husband, Nick. Leaving clues that incorporated inside jokes and stories that they shared (and that Nick didn’t always remember or understand), Amy led Nick from one significant location to another until he reached the final gift. But their fifth anniversary was different. When Nick arrived home from work, he didn’t find a clue leading to a gift; instead, he found a house in disarray and Amy missing. 

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a twist-filled psychological thriller that keeps readers on their toes from beginning to end. Nick’s first-person account of Amy’s disappearance and the subsequent investigation alternates with entries from Amy’s diary, which dates back to their courtship and the first years of their marriage. That diary provides some of the first hints that things aren’t as they seem. Amy’s version of events doesn’t quite match Nick’s, and the police have some problems with the crime scene and with Nick’s behavior. What’s really going on here? Who can the reader trust?

It’s difficult to discuss Gone Girl without giving away too much, so we’ll begin by sharing some general impressions and before we launch into a more detailed discussion, which will appear after a spoiler warning and a “continue reading” cut-off. We know that lots of you have read this and may want to discuss it in the comments, so those who haven’t, beware that the comments may also contain spoilers.

Teresa: I don’t often feel the need to read the books everyone is reading, but after all the talk about the twists in this one, as well as good reviews from so many trusted sources, my curiosity got the better of me, and I had to read it. My expectations weren’t necessarily high, but I wondered if it could possibly be as good as everyone said. In the end, I was really impressed. The plot is beautifully constructed, tight as a drum—not to mention that it puts a really interesting spin on the overdone “woman in jeopardy” stories that seem to be everywhere. Plus, there’s some pretty juicy stuff here about relationships and what it means to be truly known and truly loved.

Jenny: I totally missed all the hype, so I knew nothing about the book going in — not even that there was going to be a twist! I’d seen a few people say “This book made me loathe humanity,” but that’s not very specific…

I couldn’t agree with you more about the way the book is constructed. I kept waiting for the clichés to be trotted out, but this book is all about riffing on the clichés, and making them turn into something dark and dangerous. From the anniversary gift to the dumb cop to the stalker to the lawyer, every character and every trope had something unexpected.

Teresa: I think reading this book with limited information is the way to go. Lucky for me, all the hype had gotten so overwhelming my expectations were lowered!

I’d heard the comments about loathing humanity too, which actually made me even more curious, since I sometimes like reading about unlikable people. And I was surprised at first that I didn’t loathe the main characters more. I didn’t see them as people I’d want to hang out with—the anniversary gifts were totally cheesy. But they didn’t seem like bad people, just ordinary people with ordinary flaws. That’s just step one of the set-up, though.

Jenny: And what a set-up! From the beginning, it is all so carefully controlled. (I use that term advisedly — are we being controlled by Amy, by Nick, or by the author? Information comes out in doses.)  Here we have Nick, a man who clearly doesn’t like women, even though he is charmingly self-aware about that, and a man who spends altogether too much time thinking about the details of his wife’s murder, even though he supposedly doesn’t know she’s been murdered. Here we have Amazing Amy, who may be demanding and a bit selfish, but all she wants is to pour herself into her marriage and fall more completely in love with her husband — by her own definition of those terms. Except. Except. Except.

Spoiler alert! From here on we’ll be discussing the plot in more detail than those who haven’t read the book might want, so be warned if you read on. If you’ve read the book (or just don’t mind spoilers), read on!

Teresa: From early on, I was inclined to mistrust Nick. We’re reading Amy’s diary, after all, and why would she lie in her diary? Plus, the media has us primed to suspect the husband. But it was his account of his marriage that felt dishonest, not his version of events on that day. Then I realized why Amy might lie. It’s ingenious, and the plot looks almost impossible to get out of. I even felt for a time that Flynn had written herself into a box, particularly when Amy met her ex-boyfriend and was truly a woman in jeopardy. Here again, though, Flynn subverts a trope. Around Amy, everyone else is in jeopardy.

Jenny: I loved the way that information came out little by little — how we heard about Amy’s “stalkers” from high school and college, for instance, and how those images were reinterpreted later. How do we, as readers, know whom to trust? Even after the big reveal about Amy’s diary (which came as a complete surprise to me — I didn’t see that coming at all), you can’t trust her new information any more than her diary. She’s a manipulator and a sociopath. And so is Nick, in his own way. Even if he’s a sort of victim, he’s also a liar and a cheat, utterly untrustworthy. That’s the point where I felt a lot of readers gave up, and simply said, “These people are too unlikable, they’re just sharks.” But I feel there’s more to understand here, about the nature of relationship, need, and love. And that’s what made the ending so terrific. Flynn wasn’t afraid of taking the story to its logical conclusion.

Teresa: Yes, I’ve seen some complaints about the ending, but I loved it. It is absolutely where the story needed to go—and not just because these two people deserve each other. What’s important is that these two people know each other. I think part of what’s amazing about love is the feeling of being completely known by someone else. Amy put on a “cool girl” mask to win Nick’s heart, but she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep up the pretense forever. She first sees annihilation as the only way to be purely herself, but when she realizes that Nick does know her, the real her, and professes to love her, the idea of being with him is too beguiling to give up. In the end, the love doesn’t even matter. She just wants to be real with one person.

Nick, though, is a more complicated question. He claims that he’s trapped, but is he? Does he enjoy his prison?

Jenny: That’s the very question I was mulling over this morning. At first, I didn’t think that was very plausible. Nick presents himself as being in a kind of hate-love-hate relationship with Amy, where he loathes her but would be bored with any other woman. That’s co-dependence at its lowest, and you’d think he’d be smart enough to extricate himself from it. But then — oh, then, delicious! Flynn actually went there, with Amy’s real pregnancy, the creation of another human life to enter the equation. Now Nick is trapped, in the age-old trope of a woman getting pregnant to “keep her man,” but his personality is such that he can love every minute of it. He can be the good guy, the hero, the shield. He can use his intimate knowledge of Amy to save the child, and still get to stay in the relationship that feeds his need for drama and danger. Everyone wins… sort of. (Except for the baby. Wow, imagine that therapy bill.) So Flynn subverts yet another trope, in a final twist I didn’t see coming.

I really enjoyed this book, far more than I expected to. It made me want to read her other books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects. Those might be coming up for me in 2013!

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34 Responses to Gone Girl

  1. Harriet says:

    Great discussion. I read this a few months ago and simply loved it. Can’t really add to what yo have said, just endorse it. I hope it gets anyone who hasn’t yet read it racing off to the shops to get a copy. Thanks.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Harriet. I feel like almost everyone who’d like it has read it already, but maybe our thoughts will get some people on the fence to give it a try.

  2. russell1200 says:

    The novel struck me as rather obvious satire. A collapsing society, that can’t even support retail (the mall) or tourism (Hanibal) that has nothing better to do than follow around faux celebrities (Amy and the reality TV crowd).

    Amy is the grasping greed and manipulation personified. Remember the novel starts off with a discussion of their empty foreclosed housing development. Through this landscape of despair is the good looking, easy going Nick, who is happy to go along with everything so long as he gets to have his fun. He is representative of the midwesterners living their small little lives (as commented on by Amy). The marriage at the end, is the hell which is our current society. The easy going, but a little fuzzy, with the vibrant, but sociopathic grasping and greed.

    Obviously there are a lot of other subthemes going on here: Amy’s odd attachment with very East Coast liberal notions including feminism for one. The author beats up on all sorts of societal notions along the way. But the novel is clearly written at more than one level.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, yes, there are so many themes rolling around in this. My own thoughts focused more on relationships and love and such, but I really like your reading! I’ll have to think about that.

  3. Great discussion. I, too, had to buy this one when I saw everyone talking about it. I thought the ending was brilliant!

  4. Interesting and indepth discussion. Would love to read this book.

  5. Priscilla says:

    So glad you both enjoyed this book! I missed a lot of the hype because I literally (used correctly) read it the day it was published (not lucky enough to get an ARC) and avoided all reviews beforehand. I’d already read her first two books, so I knew I would, at the very least, be entertained. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on her other work. I recently re-read Sharp Objects, her first, and I think it held up.

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  7. How is the – the whaddayacallit – some minor element of fiction I am forgetting – the prose, how is the prose. Sasha Sylverfysh put up a quote that made me wince, but it might well be better in context. Combined with what Russel says up above, this begins to sound like a Don DeLillo novel.

    • Sasha says:

      The prose, to be crusty about it, is formalistically passable. [I remind you of your wincing, haha.] However, I really liked that Flynn achieved a genuineness [?] to the many voices necessary to the novel–that of Nick’s and Amy’s, and then of Nick’s and Amy’s after the Big Reveal. There were personality changes, in keeping with the plot, and the voice and tone followed through.

      • Teresa says:

        I agree with Sasha. The prose mostly doesn’t draw attention to itself as being particularly good or bad–it gets the job done. Some of the cringe-inducing bits seemed like things those characters would say. And the voices of the different characters feel different enough, both when they’re honest and when they’re adopting personas.

    • Creating consistent but weird voices and then having them shift into different weird voices in different contexts is a pretty good trick.

      • Teresa says:

        It is! The differences aren’t as obvious in something like Andrea Levy’s Small Island, where she writes in multiple dialects, but I never lost track of which character was speaking, which is a common problem with this kind of book.

  8. Sasha says:

    I just finished this book today, just polished off a rather hysterical post before heading over here. It was very nearly an impulse buy as, like Jenny, I seemed to have missed all the hype. So I had no idea beyond what the blurb told me, and though this isn’t a genre I usually venture into, I liked all the marriage-y nuances hinted at.

    No, I couldn’t loathe humanity this way, though. Though perhaps it should be given pause that I was so–no other word for it–impressed by Amy when she revealed herself. I was amazed by the psycho bitch, in awe of the lengths her fucked up brain went to just to avenge herself.

    I never thought that the diary entries and Nick’s flashbacks were inconsistent, though. I looked at them as two different perspectives–jarring at times, yes, but not so dissonant that I’d suspected the other was lying. It just felt like two people whose feelings w/ each other had spoiled.

    That ending, too, was gold. Although I’m amazed I could still breathe up to that point.

    • Teresa says:

      I sure didn’t like Amy at the end, but I’ve got to give her props for being able to think everything through and executing it–and she had a weird wisdom, as in her thoughts about discipline and planning and the “cool girl” business.

      I agree that most of the conflicts between the diary and Nick’s story were matters of perception, but there were enough complete contradictions (Amy said Nick had wanted the stationary, Nick said he didn’t) to raise my suspicions. Knowing in advance there were reliability questions probably helped, too.

  9. This book was like a roller coaster ride – best book I read in 2012!

  10. Sly Wit says:

    Great discussion. One thing I certainly loved about this book was its layers. You can read it as a simple thriller, but there is so much more to it if you want to dig into it.

  11. Michelle says:

    Great discussion! Your comments brought me back to my own thoughts and reactions. I felt the same way about the end. As sick as it is, they are perfect for each other after all – and that kid is doomed.

  12. boardinginmyforties says:

    My book club read this one recently but I missed the meeting and didn’t read the book. I’ve got to pick this one up. I was so tempted to read the spoiler section in your write up but I contained myself so can still look forward to the twist!

    • Teresa says:

      I have a feeling it would hold up even if you know the various twists, but not knowing made the revelations so much more delicious–and the guessing so much more fun.

  13. Nicola says:

    I’ve been pondering whether to read this and you’re post has sold it to me! Thanks.

  14. bybee says:

    I was reminded of Jim Thompson’s writing. I still think about Gone Girl and go OMG and WTF.

  15. Well, I skipped the spoilers part and haven’t read any comments, but based on your initial discussion I’m getting on library list for this one. Sounds like an interesting novel, in both construct and style. I love riffing on the cliches–nicely put!

  16. Pingback: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn | JoV's Book Pyramid

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