Every 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!