Gone Girl, published by Crown Publishing Group in June 2012, rapidly became the winner of Goodreads Choice Awards ‘Best Mystery and Thriller’ in 2014, and in the same year, was adapted to film by David Fincher. As an avid reader of Gillian Flynn’s gripping novels such as Sharp Objects in 2006, and Dark Places 2009, both astounding mystery thrillers, I had an overwhelming curiosity to find out why we had to wait for the publication of Gone Girl before Gillian Flynn became a household name.
“I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV and movies and books. Back when people read things on paper, back when anyone cared about what I thought.” – Nick Dunne, failing writer, and even more of a failing husband, opens the novel as he comes home to discover that his wife Amy has gone missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. The front door to their Carthage, Missouri home is wide open, the coffee table flipped and shattered, and Amy is nowhere to be seen.
“She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head.” Nick tells us, “You could imagine the skull quite easily.”
The premise of Gone Girl is deceivingly simple. It isn’t so much what happens in the book that makes it an incredible read, it is Flynn’s use of structure and narrative voice. The novel is written in a split narrative format and alternates between Nick and Amy. Nick, as he hunts for Amy whilst her disappearance consumes the full attention of the media, and Amy through the form of diary entries, walking us through the fairy-tale of her early relationship with Nick: “Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this…I met a boy!” You would think that this narrative style would allow us to get a clear and unbiased view from both sides of the marriage, but the first half of the novel includes some of the tensest prose you will ever get to read, leaving us confused as to who to trust with every narrative switch.
It is this particular style of narration within in Gone Girl that sets Flynn apart from other authors in this genre; a master of ramping up the drama to almost unbearable levels. With each revelation about the police investigation, Amy’s backstory is geared up a notch to perfectly maximise a response from the reader. In doing so, Nick and Amy become two very intriguing characters, as well as incredibly unreliable narrators who deceive and manipulate us, leaving us unable to depend on either of them to tell us the truth. Flynn makes us markedly aware of this with each narrative switch, throwing us into an even deeper cobweb of lies with each turn of the page, forcing us to take part in a mind-boggling game of second-guessing everything we are ever told. Around half way through the novel we find out Amy’s true fate – or at least we think we do – as the previous manipulation of the narration has left us in a river of doubt. At this point, readers may expect that the tension of the story is lost, but this is no match for Flynn who cunningly replaces it with a slow drip feed of revelations and insights into the real mindsets and motivations of her two key characters.
And it is exactly that which is most intriguing when reading Gone Girl – the mindsets and motivations of the characters. Let’s start with Amy, her version of her past with Nick rings too good to be true and grates in its imperfection. She is already a quasi-fictional character, being idealised and immortalised by her parent’s bestselling Amazing Amy children’s books, a fairy tale alter ego that stalks its host in adulthood. But Amy’s diaries tell a different story, in which she is increasingly terrorised by Nick.
And Nick? Well, remember, women have “girl brain[s]” and female scents, “vaginal and strangely lewd.” Is that misogyny I hear entering your tone, Nick? He lies to the police, lies that are so little, they don’t really matter, but why does he do it to begin with? He even has to take public relations lessons from attorney Tanner Bolt, who understands the fine art of faking sincerity in the media.
Both characters adopt a new persona – a performance if you will – and their true selves are hidden from the rest of the world as they edit and rewrite themselves for whoever so happens to be invested in them at the time. And where does that leave us? Manipulated, confused and flicking back through the pages trying to piece everything back together.
Delicately playing and manipulating her readers throughout, Flynn creates suspense right up until the novel is finished, making Gone Girl an absolute must read thriller.