Gone Girl, which The Observer declared thriller of the year, opens with on the day Nick Dunne’s wife Amy disappears. They’ve moved from New York City to the Missouri town where Nick grew up after they were both made redundant. Nick has opened a bar with his sister ‘Go and Amy isn’t doing much. Nick comes home to find evidence of a struggle in his house and Amy gone.
Alternating with the chapters on the police investigation into Amy’s disappearance are Amy’s diary entries dating back to the time she and Nick met. Amy is the daughter of two psychologists who just happen to have got rich from creating a fictional character called Amazing Amy, the star of books read by children all over the US. What follows is a study of a new relationship and how a marriage sours over time. As the police struggle to find leads and the media machine kicks in, the blame starts to fall on Nick’s shoulders. But all is not what it seems and I won’t say any more about the plot to avoid spoilers.
This book, and the film that have just been released, have been almost impossible to avoid. I was left a copy by a friend who was visiting from the US and it definitely isn’t the sort of thing I read. But in the spirit of broadening my reading, I decided to give it a chance, only to find myself pleasantly surprised.
The opening pages didn’t give me much hope with overblown prose and a constant annoying stream of consciousness. But then I got used to the writing and started instead to take notice of the piercing observations – the white-bread nature of country America, the glaring hopelessness of mid-west towns desecrated by the Global Financial Crisis and the damage done by careers cut short as the publishing industry melts down. The cult of celebrity and the glorifying of crime also come in for a pasting.
But what really made me sit up and take notice was Flynn’s observations about the nature of modern relationships. There’s a brilliant scene where Amy talks about the ‘dancing monkeys’, the men who are ‘under the thumb’, never allowed out with their mates, always needing to perform for their equally needy girlfriends. Amy calls herself instead a ‘Cool Girl’ –
‘I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.’
Ouch! It can only go downhill from there.
As Amy says, she waited for the pendulum to swing the other way but it never did. Cool Girl soon became the standard girl, the one all girls needed to be. But this reflection on the nature of how women are now, the modern version of the 1950s housewife who will do anything for her man, is soon left behind as the narrative picks up and we learn more about what has brought Amy and Nick to the current crisis.
We get two unreliable narrators, which Flynn uses to good effect, leaving us wondering whose side we want to be on. That it is never clear-cut who is at fault for the failure of the relationship is a credit to her storytelling.
I did find the story lost momentum near the end and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the climax, but it does surprise, which is important for this sort of story. This certainly is a great thriller but its also a devastating critique of modern relationships, which for me was its greatest strength, though I did find it overwritten and the prose style a bit annoying.