Ten years ago, on June 5th, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl arrived. It wasn’t Flynn’s first book or even her second—she’d published two unsettling works both of which had sold reasonably well. But Gone Girl rocketed to the top of the best-seller list in the summer of 2012—it spent eight weeks at #1 on the NYT hardcover list and by the end of the year had sold over two million copies. In general, critics loved it and readers couldn’t stop talking about it.
I don’t love Flynn’s first two books—I find Sharp Objects so disturbing that, really, I wish I’d never read it and the lead sin Dark Places are too glum for my liking. But I adored Gone Girl. I am grateful I read it in the era where spoilers were easy to avoid—I can still remember gaping at the very first paragraph of Part Two. It was a book that as soon as I’d finished reading it, I wanted to do so again and, several weeks later I did. Flynn’s precision with both plot and words riveted me. Everything about the novel, including its morally ambiguous framework, worked for me.
I read it again last month to see how it would hold up. And, if possible, I thought it even better.
For those who haven’t read it, Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne whose marriage, like many, is full of lies, malice, sex, betrayal, and love. As the book begins, it is the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth anniversary and Nick comes downstairs to find Amy making pancakes. Amy beams at Nick, calls him handsome, and Nick, full of dread, thinks “OK, go.”
Within hours, Amy has vanished, the living room is in shambles, and the police—and the reader–are eyeing Nick with suspicion. After all, the most likely killer of a missing, presumably dead wife is always the husband. Worse, as Nick tells the story, it’s clear he might have murdered Amy. When he met her, she was perfect–beautiful, charming, and very very rich. Now, however, Amy, though still beautiful, is viciously nasty to Nick (or so he says), and all that money Nick so longed for is missing. After the money vanished, the two moved back to Nick’s small hometown in Missouri, a place Nick says Amy loathes, and their marriage has become, according to Nick, an emotional hell.
Nick’s story is in first person but the reader gets Amy’s story via her diary, a work whose first entry she penned seven years ago on the night she met Nick. In her telling, from the moment they met, she adored him. Her prose is full, in the salad days of their story, of effervescent joy. Nick was just the best, coolest, most wonderful man EVER.
Both Amy and Nick, when they met, were writers. And though neither of them is paid to do so anymore, in Gone Girl they are each determinedly telling their side of the story. The book goes back and forth between Nick narrating what (or so he says) is happening in real-time and Amy narrating what happened in the past (or so she says), in chronological order via her diary. Both narrations are utterly unreliably.
There are many ways to misdirect a reader. You can leave out facts that had they been shared cast a completely different lens on the story you’re telling. You can emphasize things that in reality were meaningless at the time and now inflate them with portent. You can simply say things that are patently untrue. Amy and Nick each do all of these and more as they work to control the narrative of their love story. Because it is, while not even vaguely a romance, a love story. Amy’s and Nick’s ultimate goal is to show the world the real person the other is and the relationship they’ve wrought is as intimate as any I’ve ever read.
Gone Girl offers shock after shock and the plot, while at times borderline bonkers, is believable. This is a book that even on my third reading of it, I couldn’t put down. Even better is Flynn’s prose. In 2022, we all know Amy’s famous Cool Girl rant. It is, if possible, over twenty years even more true in its skewering of a certain kind of horribly common male expectation for women.
One can’t help but agree with Amy’s fury but even as you find yourself nodding your head you remember Amy is not to be trusted—nor, of course, is Nick—and you realize, yet again, you’ve been reading as though their words have some kind of narrative truth when, you realize, you f*cking know better to believe a word either shares.
I’ve heard from many that they found the ending unsatisfying, and I get that. We are a world that likes our vengeance and punishment for those who sin. I, though, see the ending as offering both. Amy and Nick get exactly what they deserve. As do we readers who’ve just finished a perfect rendered tale.
Recent Comments …
I got this in my BOTM box. It did have a warning for violence which makes me a little leery…
On my TBR!
I so agree!
I have asked for that for Christmas!
If you’re a fan of Singh’s writing, you’ll love it!
I will definitely check this book out. I had my US History students read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale–based…