On its surface, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl appears to be a run-of-the-mill mystery with a relatively standard plot: On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne gets a call at work from a concerned neighbor: his front door is wide open. Nick rushes home to find a tea kettle boiled to nothing on the stove, furniture overturned in his living room and his wife Amy missing. He of course calls the police, who immediately begin investigating the disappearance as a crime. The novel follows the course of the investigation as more and more evidence leads them to believe Nick has murdered his wife. This somewhat average synopsis, however, belies the book's uniquely complex story and the deliciously evil plot twists that elevate it from common pot-boiler to "oh my gosh you must read this now" status.
The story is alternately told by Nick and Amy. Nick's voice remains a first-person account throughout, relaying the current state of the investigation into Amy's disappearance. We know even before Amy goes missing that all is not right with their relationship. Nick muses early on in the novel, "There's something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold." He describes his reaction to his wife's cheery greeting on the morning she disappears: "Bile and dread inched up my throat." He also admits to us that he is lying to the police, although not about what, exactly. It's immediately obvious that Nick is an unreliable narrator and that we, his audience, should not trust him.
The other voice is Amy's, first in diary entries covering the five year period from her meeting Nick through her disappearance, and later her own first-person account of events as they unfold. Here, too, it's painfully obvious that their marriage is the very picture of dysfunction. The gradual decline in the couple's relationship as chronicled from each person's point of view adds a certain amount of depth to the narrative, particularly throughout the first section of the novel. The author excels at illustrating the collapse of a one-time loving relationship into a nightmare for which each party bears responsibility.
Little more can be said about the plot without including spoilers. Suffice it to say, it's a roller-coaster ride with enough surprises along the way to keep even the most jaded mystery reader absorbed.
My one criticism is that Flynn is not very subtle about how she wants you to feel about her characters; I felt manipulated - almost manhandled - into reacting to the characters in specific ways at key points in the plot. All authors, of course, guide a reader's feelings, but when it's too overt it becomes a distraction. Those who read for style as much as plot may find this outweighs their enjoyment of the novel, but those who are simply looking for a terrifically entertaining page-turner will likely be too engrossed to notice.
On finishing Gone Girl I immediately contacted my friends to insist they read it; it's one of those books that I simply couldn't wait to discuss with others. I found it to be an original, engaging mystery that kept me guessing throughout. It's the perfect novel for readers looking for fast-paced escapism.
Here's the trailer for the Gone Girl movie to be released, Fall 2014.
This review was originally published in June 2012, and has been updated for the April 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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