08 July 2012

Gone with the Wind

When I was in New York, everyone seemed to be reading Gillian Flynn's new novel Gone Girl. A quick skim of the back cover blurb was enough to tell me it was my kind of book, but I decided to wait until it became available in my local library. It turned out to be a real page-turner and I read it in a few short sessions.

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne's wife Amy disappears from their small Missouri town. The book examines what happens in the days that follow, as narrated by Nick, but we also get Amy's perspective--in the form of past diary entries, for example. It's hard to say too much more without spoiling the book, so if you plan to read it, look away now. I won't give away the ending or reveal too many of the plot points, but the book's structure and set-up is interesting and I plan to discuss it. Knowing this in advance could affect the way you read the book and your enjoyment of it.

OK. As I mentioned before, we get chapters from both Nick's and Amy's point of view. Nick seems shocked at his wife's disappearance but he never seems to act quite right--he does things that look guilty--and slowly we learn that the two people who seemed to be the perfect couple may not be as happy together as we initially thought. A beautiful, privileged New Yorker, Amy had trouble with men before meeting Nick, but then for a few years they lived the good life in Brooklyn; he was a journalist and she, the daughter of two psychologists, wrote personality quizzes for magazines. Then the recession hit and they both lost their jobs and their house and were forced to relocate to Nick's hometown, where he opens a bar with his twin sister Go. And Amy's diary entries, which start from around the time when she and Nick first met, paint a less than perfect picture of their new lives and their new relationship.

As the novel progresses, then, we like Nick less and less, while poor, sad Amy emerges as a tragic heroine. But around the halfway mark, there is a volte-face and suddenly we realise that everything we thought we knew about Amy and Nick is, at best, skewed, and at worst, an outright lie. If you like unreliable narrators--and I do--you will really enjoy Gone Girl. Nick's deceptions are perhaps less surprising, because he's trying to seem like a good guy. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you about this whole, incriminating part of my life, he mentions some 100 pages in. Somehow, though, diaries--especially the diaries of beautiful, sympathetic missing women--hold certain expectations of authenticity. After all, if you are the only person reading your diary, why wouldn't you be honest? It is a nice touch that the reader begins to discover how nothing is as it seems at the same moment as Nick does. Naturally, it makes him more likable.

There's a touch of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a dash of Fatal Attraction and a hefty dose of Southern Noir to Gone Girl. It's a compelling, well-written manifesto of secrets, lies, love, hatred, and the difficulty of truly knowing another person. In some ways, it has the classic crime thriller structure--and maybe, to some extent, even the same structure of a romance, although not necessarily a happy one--but it is so much more interesting than the likes of Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly (which I also enjoy). Amy and Nick aren't always likable but they are engaging and I enjoyed the constant editing of their relationship, or what we thought we knew about their relationship. Read Gone Girl: it's really good and I think it will appeal to both men and women; just don't expect a very light-hearted read.

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