One thing I really love and admire from a writer is when they give us a familiar scenario and manage to completely turn it on its head or take it apart analyse it and rework it into something quite unfamiliar. Deborah Levy’s ‘Swimming Home’ did this for me early in the year with an initially formulaic idea of a middle class holiday and the arrival of a stranger, now Gillian Flynn has done it with a brilliantly written thriller based on a missing spouse with ‘Gone Girl’. No surprise then that both of these books will easily be sitting high up on my list of books of the year without a shadow of a doubt.
‘Gone Girl’ opens with Nick Dunne telling us how on their fifth wedding anniversary, after a call from the neighbours, goes home to find the door wide open, the lounge smashed up and his wife Amy missing. Soon the police become involved and, as Amy was made infamous in her youth through her parents’ novels featuring the ‘Amazing Amy’, there is a county and soon nationwide interest and search into her disappearance. This is all quite familiar but the first, of many, clever tricks which Gillian Flynn throws into this book is the fact that as we get the story in the present from Nick, we alternately start to read the diary entries from Amy at the start of their relationship.
These diary entries initially start with all the joy and romance of her initial meeting with Nick, her dismay when he vanishes for a while and elation when he comes back. As their relationship goes on it really is all perfect, that is until his parents separately fall ill, Nick and Amy both get made redundant, spend most of her trust fund and wind up living in Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri. This is not a place Amy wants to be and as she writes she tells of her feelings of alienation and that Nick might be buckling under the pressure, and a darker side of her husband is revealed.
The stories start to converge as Nick continues to narrate his version of events in the present and as the police and the public start to cast a suspicious eye on him. Yet as the stories start to meet nothing one spouse is saying about the other quite matches and what really happened is full of twist after twist after twist after twist.
I won’t say anymore about the plot for fear of spoiling anything, and you do want to go into ‘Gone Girl’ knowing as little as possible to be honest. I will say that I think this is one of the best books that I have read all year. I have certainly been completely bowled over by Gillian Flynn’s writing, and not just for incredible and complex plotting, which she makes seem effortless as we read, also for the way in which the world that Nick and Amy inhabit is so vivid and how real they become. I felt I followed their story from young loves dream to rather disillusioned marriage as if I was one of their acquaintances, even when the stories didn’t match which is all the more clever.
I also liked the little intricate bits of them and their marriage was wonderfully done. I thought the back story of ‘Amazing Amy’ was brilliant and how that would affect someone. The issue of cancer and Alzheimer’s which Nick’s parents raise as well as redundancy and the death of the city and the small town were both current and completely believable. The whole world of this novel worked, which is why I couldn’t just label this book as simply a thriller, it is so much more than that.
As you can probably tell I could enthuse about ‘Gone Girl’, and indeed Gillian Flynn’s writing of it, endlessly. I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.
Who else has read ‘Gone Girl’ and (without spoilers) what did you think? Have you read any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels and if so which ones should I be reading next? I have to admit though the urge to go and get them both now is very, very strong.