Photo from nytimes.com.
Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, has been interviewed many times about this book, her third and, far-and-away, her most popular. She has been asked about the protag/antagonists Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot Dunne. She has been asked about the narrative structure. She’s been asked about her influences. She’s been asked if the book is a treatise on marriage. She’s been asked to discuss the novel’s ending.
The heat around Gone Girl is about to pick up again as a film, directed by the marvelous David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is going to open this fall. We’ll be seeing Flynn everywhere.
And that’s a good thing. She writes a great story.
Gone Girl tells the story of Amy Elliot Dunne who goes missing on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Suspicion immediately lights on Nick Dunne, her husband. The reader is set up to think that the novel will cover a fairly standard arc of investigation and clues and discovery and punishment.
Flynn masterfully subverts all those expectations.
Rather than narrate the novel from a simple third person perspective, Flynn employs Nick and Amy as the book’s narrative voices. Nick is telling the story post-event. His narrative begins “The Morning Of…” as in the morning of the first day that Amy has gone missing and while his voice proceeds linearly from that point, Nick does flashback, where appropriate, to his earlier life with Amy.
Amy’s story, on the other hand, is told pre-event. Her narrative begins months before she goes missing and is presented as a series of journal entries. These proceed linearly providing a countdown to the day that she will, inevitably, go missing.
There is much writing discipline evident from Flynn. Each Nick chapter is followed by an Amy chapter and that routine is never broken throughout the course of the novel. More impressively, Flynn manages to make each chapter engrossing. In many books that employ similar narrative devices or, in fact, in any book that shifts it focus from a character or situation in which I am heavily involved to a character or situation in which I am not as involved simply to provide more information or other plot points, I often find myself skimming to get back to the object of my interest. Not so with Gone Girl. I was both interested and fascinated by Amy and Nick, even when it became clear that they were highly unreliable narrators.
I assume that Flynn had, by her computer as she wrote, an outline of how events in Amy and Nick’s lives really played out, how the day of Amy’s disappearance really went down, because a reader is not ever going to get the full truth from the interlocking narrative. Writing narrative from perspectives readers cannot trust is a very difficult thing to do. The author must make the reader invest in the narrative voices before illustrating that they cannot be trusted. Otherwise, there is a risk of the reader asking “what’s the point?” and putting the book aside.
I knew I couldn’t trust Amy. Or Nick.
And that is the fun of Gone Girl.
Not only didn’t I put the book aside, I devoured it.
The book is populated by interesting supporting characters from Amy’s parents (who’ve made a small fortune – and lost some money, too – on a series of children’s books based on their own daughter, the Amazing Amy series) to the cops investigating the crime, to Nick’s sister Margo (“Go” for short who is his twin and with whom he shares a significant bond) to Amy’s former boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris will play him in the movie and I. Can’t. Wait.). All of the characters appear well drawn and avoid stereotype and most of their motives are as convoluted as Amy’s and Nick’s.
Too say much more about the plot would be to steal the fun and I am no spoiler. I won’t be spoiling anything. I will say that the book, thematically, has something to say about relationships and marriages and the perceptions – both of the outside-looking-in and the inside-looking-out variety – that people have about them. The book also has points to make about identity and the manner in which people build their own identities. It also touches upon a middle America that is struggling with economic collapse that makes it yearn for something else to capture its attention like a steamy husband-kills-wife plot.
I will say that I felt a little let down by the ending of the novel and I felt that let down coming. The Cinnamon Girl had read the book and had noted that she wasn’t crazy-nuts-in-love with the end, but my reaction wasn’t based on that, it was based on the growing idea that I felt there was no perfect way to end the novel. All of the conclusions of which I could think felt unsatisfying in some way and the one that the author reached did, too. Flynn has said that the film will have a different conclusion than the book and I look forward to seeing what she does with it.
I loved the book. I put aside things to read it. I made time in my schedule. I looked forward to returning to it each day. If that’s not a reaction every author wants readers to have, I don’t know what is.
Gone Girl receives FOUR AND A HALF AMAZING AMY STORIES out of a possible five.