I’d seen Gone Girl mentioned on Twitter and my MA tutor told me that people were referring to it as one of the best thrillers of 2012. I wanted to know what all the hype was about and to decide for myself what I thought.
The first time I read Gone Girl I stopped reading it about a third of the way through. Recently, I returned to it, started from the beginning again and finished it. It was a slow read for me; sometimes I was engrossed and couldn’t put it down but not always…
If I attempt to summarise the story, I realise that I’m not sure whether it’s about a couple’s unhappy relationship or the story of a woman who goes missing. Somehow I feel that neither of those descriptions suffice. For me it is a story about a story: a two-sided account of a relationship which has soured and which results in the woman going missing. What I find fascinating is that the plot is relatively straightforward. Much of what we are told is backstory: all the events that happened prior to Amy’s disappearance, and what she and Nick thought and felt about them. It’s this that really fleshes out who these two characters are and what’s been going on.
My two main criteria for books are that I want them to a) make me feel something and b) make me think about life, people and writing. Ideally, I like it if something about the book lingers in my mind whilst and after reading it. At times I found Gone Girl infuriating; at others I was completely transported by Flynn’s extraordinary use of language. Strangely, what I liked about it was also what annoyed me: the detail she used, and the unusualness of many of her expressions and descriptions. I was aware that there was some repetition in the book and at times it was excessive. I wonder if it could have been edited out. Also, if the story could have been told in less than 460 pages.
One of the main things I’ve seen written about Gone Girl refers to the ending. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet but when I was reading it, I was conscious of turning over in my mind possible endings. The one that Flynn chose didn’t surprise me but I also thought that it was fitting. There wasn’t a big reveal – as many people seem to want there to have been – but I didn’t expect there to be, and the book wasn’t spoiled (for me) by there not being one.
The other thing I’ve heard people say is that they felt manipulated by the author in a way that was uncomfortable. Having read the jacket blurb, and a few pages, I soon realised that both Nick and Amy were likely to be unreliable narrators. So I read their respective chapters much as one might listen to the testimonies in court of a divorcing couple. I knew I was being manipulated but it didn’t bother me. That said, I was influenced by the author’s narrative to an extent as I was aware of a shift in my attitude towards Amy: I started to feel less sympathetic towards her as the book progressed, and as I learnt more about her. I also found it interesting that both Amy and Nick were able to be honest at times but not always. When they were honest, Flynn often gave them a sophisticated understanding of their own psyches and motivations. But this was cleverly contrasted with an astonishing lack of emotional intelligence at times too.
I am intrigued by the hype around Gone Girl. I’ve read some of Flynn’s other books and in my opinion she is an exceptionally talented writer, clearly has a keen eye and has an excellent insight into human relationships. No book is perfect. I wouldn’t describe Gone Girl as ‘Thriller of the Year’ (as the Observer sticker on the front cover does), but I think it’s a clever, ambitious book. I admire authors who take risks in their writing. With two such unpleasant characters as Nick And Amy, and with some of her language, Flynn has taken risks and challenged herself and her reader. Psychologically, I found it fascinating. It made me think a lot about: the damage that people can do to themselves and each other; the lies that people tell themselves and others; and how complex needs and motivations are in relationships. I rarely say that I ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a book. Reading isn’t like that for me. I don’t tend to read ‘nice’ books – which would warrant me saying that I like them. The subject matter in Gone Girl isn’t ‘nice’. Some scenes did make me cringe (eg. Amy spitting in the stuff in the fridge) but I expected it of this unpleasant couple. What I loved about Gone Girl was that it got me thinking. I would very much like to hear Gillian Flynn talking about the book, to hear her explain her various decisions when she was writing it, and how she conceived of the book and the characters. Also whether – with hindsight and hypothetically speaking - she would change anything.