I try not to read too much about a book before reading it myself, especially one as hyped as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. As in life, I believe the secret to reading happiness lies in having high hopes and low expectations and I didn’t want my expectations raised before I had the chance to reach my own conclusions.
I needn’t have worried. Gone Girl lived up to the hype. I coveted this book like Gollum coveted his ring, hiding from people I knew on the tram so I didn’t have to interrupt my reading, hanging out for everyone at home to go to bed so I could finish it.
The ‘gone girl’ of the title is Manhattanite Amy Elliot Dunne, wife of Nick Dunne, who disappears on their fifth anniversary from their home in a semi-derelict development in North Carthage, Missouri. Suspicion falls on Nick from the first, even before the evidence against him starts to pile up.
Time, financial pressures and familiarity have taken their toll on Amy and Nick, and Flynn’s forensic examination of their toxic relationship makes for riveting reading. Early in the book Nick describes Amy as ‘an awful fairy-tale reverse transformation’:
the old Amy, the girl of the big laugh and the easy ways, literally shed herself, a pile of skin and soul on the floor, and out stepped this new, brittle, bitter Amy. My wife was no longer my wife but a razor-wire knot daring me to unloop her, and I was not up to the job with my thick, dumb, nervous fingers.
But Nick is no angel either — selfish, passive, deceitful — and as the story unfolds, it became hard to know who’s telling the truth and whose side to take, the unreliability of both narrators adding to the tension.
Flynn’s novel messed with my head, and I say that as a compliment. Even when I thought I’d second guessed her, I’d find myself wrong-footed. The suspense is sustained to the very end, even as more and more blanks are filled in.
The equally loathsome lead characters may put some readers off. And a healthy sense of schadenfreude is called for in order to enjoy watching a briefly happy marriage go horribly, horribly wrong. But for me the book’s wicked, teasing humour took the edge off the nastiness like a numbing shot of vodka.
Or as author and screenwriter Scott Smith put it in hands-down the best puff I’ve read in a long time, ‘It’s as if Gillian Flynn has mixed us a martini using battery acid instead of vermouth and somehow managed to make it taste really, really good.’
Gone Girl (2012) is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is destined for Hollywood.