Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mystery Review: 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn

What to say about a book that's been the focus of so much adulation, but also mystified a sizeable proportion of its readership? So many people say: I just don't get it, don't like it, can't read it. The problem is that the two main characters, Nick and Amy, are seriously unlikeable. Not just not-my-type unlikeable, either. This is one totally messed-up weird twisted wreckage of a couple. Well, unlikeable's never bothered me. Some of the most interesting characters are villains. Heroes and heroines tend to be bland and dull and boringly good; give me a good villain any day.

The other big problem to overcome is the writing style, which can best be described as over-the-top aren't-I-clever? Both main characters are written in first person, so there's ample opportunity for snide abuse by the bucketload. Maybe ten per cent of it is incisively funny, the rest varies from meh to eye-rollingly bad to downright offensive. I dislike that kind of look-at-me cleverness, but enough of it was funny to get by, and all of it was in character, so it's hard to object to, I suppose.

The plot is that Nick and Amy have been forced by the recession to move from their sleek Manhattan lifestyle to a more modest life in Nick's hometown in Missouri. They both find the change difficult, the marriage begins to fall apart and then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears, leaving a stagily disorganised house, cleaned-up bloodstains and a great deal of other incriminating evidence pointing straight to Nick as a likely murder suspect. Since we are inside Nick's head a lot of the time, we know there's more to it than it appears.

I don't want to say too much about how the plot develops, because there are more twists than a bag of pretzels, and I don't want to spoil the surprises. However, the main twist at the halfway point was one I saw coming almost from the start, which added some interest to the early part of the book. It's always fun to appreciate both the obvious surface viewpoint, and the inside perspective that illuminates the behind-the-scenes manipulation. After that reveal, the pace ramps up and this part was, for me, unputdownable.

And then the ending. Again, it's one I saw coming. It seemed almost inevitable, although I hoped right to the last minute that there would be some big twist to force things off in a more interesting direction. There was a small twist, I suppose, so the way in which the ending was achieved was unexpected, but the actual situation was as I'd foreseen. Sorry to be so cryptic, but I really don't want to spoil this for anyone.

For anyone looking for deeper meaning in a psychological thriller, there's interest in the way the whole story was handled in the public eye, on TV, on the internet, through talk shows and to-camera interviews. The police investigation was gradually overshadowed by the global media take-up of Nick and Amy's story, and the way they were manipulated by the various factions involved. This isn't a particularly original line to take, but it was handled well here.

Ultimately, even though I didn’t expect to, I'd have to admit I enjoyed this. The plotting was clever, the way the book was structured, with alternating Nick and Amy chapters, was clever, the writing was clever and sometimes downright witty. Even knowing where things were going much of the time, I was still on the edge of my seat at the way the plot screeched round corners and made abrupt u-turns. I'd have put this at four stars but the ending was disappointing in its lack of proper resolution. Leaving things in unstable and potentially explosive equilibrium isn't very satisfying, although perhaps it's appropriate. So three stars.


  1. I read this some months back. I found it gripping, but with an increasingly implausible plot, and have no desire to reread it (for me the mark of an excellent book). I worried about the ending.

    1. Yes, I know a lot of people liked the ending but I wasn't comfortable with it at all. This was a bookgroup read for me, and I was in the minority in actually liking it (and finishing it!). Most of the group found it 'too American' (they said).

  2. Had never thought of the perspective of someone with a personality disorder. This completely changed how I will think of that diagnosis forever. The story is powerful and the promise of recovery is inspiring. Definitely would recommend to read to expand your world.
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