Book Review: Gone Girl

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This review is going to have to be brief, because there’s almost no way to talk about Gone Girl without giving something away, and really, the less you know ahead of time, the better.

Gone Girl is a thriller, but you could also describe it as an analysis of a marriage. What makes a couple tick? How do people know if they fit? What happens to a relationship when the initial excitement and spark have faded?

Nick and Amy Dunne are a beautiful couple — truly, they are. It’s emphasized from the beginning of Gone Girl how very attractive they each are; they’re the golden boy and girl, the ones who get noticed, never ones to fade into a crowd. Nick and Amy meet at a party in New York when they are both magazine writers. They have an exciting romance and a beautiful wedding; the perfect couple — smart, attractive, fun, and completely in tune with each other. When the economy tanks and the magazine business dries up, they are both laid off, and end up moving back to Nick’s boyhood hometown of Carthage, Missouri to care for his dying mother, but really more to lick their wounds and figure out what a next chapter in their lives might look like.

Amy is the daughter of two psychologists who are famous for their bestselling Amazing Amy series of children’s books, based on Amy’s own life, which makes her both a curiosity and a celebrity. Nick is the son of a woman-hating father who left his mother when Nick was 12; Nick’s father now resides in a care facility from which he regularly escapes in an Alzheimer-fueled fog of anger.

Gone Girl opens with Nick and Amy’s 5th anniversary, as Nick contemplates just how miserable he is… and then discovers that Amy has disappeared. Day by day, evidence begins to pile up suggesting that violence, perhaps murder, has occurred, and Nick is slowly painted into a corner as the prime suspect, with only his high-profile lawyer and his twin sister Go to defend him.

What really happened to Amy? Why does Nick talk so much about the shape of Amy’s skull and have visions of harming her? Is Nick really a killer, or just a not-very-good husband who’s a convenient target for police interest and public scorn?

Told in chapters that alternate between Nick’s narration and Amy’s diary, we hear bits and pieces of the story from both Nick and Amy’s points of view. Gillian Flynn does a fantastic job of creating unique voices for each character, and the portraits we receive are detailed, rich, and chilling. Supporting characters feel well-defined and true-to-life.

The author skewers the current cult of crime TV, sensationalism masquerading as journalism, and seemingly endless parades of murder suspects dominating cable programming at all hours of the day. Nick realizes quickly that he’ll be considered the prime suspect, because everyone knows from watching TV that it’s most likely that the husband did it. He knows how police investigations work, understands that a sympathetic detective is just trying to soften him up, and knows that he’ll look guilty if he asks for a lawyer too soon — because he’s seen it all on CSI. His lawyer points out to him that by the time a case goes to trial, it’s been all but decided already on the cable legal shows and on the Internet. Control the message, control the outcome of the trial. The behind-the-scenes look at how publicity and public relations dictate the course of a crime investigation is actually quite fascinating.

Ultimately, though, it is the mystery at the heart of Gone Girl that makes it such a compelling read. Understanding Nick and Amy’s psyches and their inner workings is key to understanding what has happened and how it will all play out. I couldn’t put it down, and the twists and turns kept me guessing until the end.

I did find the ending unsatisfying, not because it left loose ends or because it didn’t fit — but because it wasn’t the outcome I wanted. Which means that I was enmeshed enough in the story and the characters’ lives to really care about what happened, which in my view makes this book a terrific success.

Read Gone Girl if you enjoy a good mystery, and most especially if you like to be surprised. Believe me, you will be.

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