Still, I never felt the urge to read Gillian Flynn's bestselling thriller until now. Actually, I never had the urge to read it period. I just didn't know what to read after Heartbroken. Lo and behold, Gone Girl was sure to sneak in - again - as I searched for books, and I decided I'd give it a go.
What can I say? No, really, what can I say? I have very strange, cycloned feelings about this book, and I've been dreading this review since the moment I finished the last chapter on the train yesterday morning. What will I write? How do I summarize my thoughts on this book?
Because, truthfully, everything about everything is complicated when it comes to Gone Girl.
I am writing this review completely aware that I will have to stop at some point and go to the store. I warned you.
Ironically, Gone Girl was published in 2012, just like the book I reviewed previously. Yet the two are so radically different, and utilize "modern" times in such radically different ways, you wouldn't guess that were the case.
It's hard for me to decide where to start with this review, so I guess I'll stick with the elements of this book that stuck out to me the most. Let's begin with narration.
There are two focal characters in Gone Girl: Nick Dunne and his wife, Amy Elliot Dunne. While it's not mandatory to write a psychological thriller - or any book - in the first-person, Flynn takes this perspective and milks it for all it's worth. Nick narrates his half of the story in first-person past, and Amy narrates hers, initially, through a series of diary entries that, too, are first-person, though she speaks in the present tense. I did pick up on this right away, but the tenses made me wonder even more when we switch to Amy's narration outside of her diary entries, which remains present-tense. Nick, on the other hand, solely narrates in the past.
To this point I can't fathom why this is the case - at least, not exactly. The book ends in a way that doesn't clarify the choice of tenses, in my opinion, but moving on. The perspective - again, first-person - is what makes this book have the power that it has, up until it's end. You always hear the story either through Nick's thoughts or Amy's thoughts, and the result is a permanent bias that never, ever falters. Unreliable is the word: who are you to trust?
Even so, I personally found both narrators truthful in what they do say, but that's the catch: as incredibly human characters (Flynn made this book terrifyingly realistic through the 100% possibility of events, actions, and, especially, character voice), both Nick and Amy are decisive about what they want to share with us, the readers. I found Nick especially guilty of this: how many times do we hear about Nick's alibi at the beach the "morning of," and how it's undoubtedly a lie due to a series of reasons that would prove otherwise? He makes it obvious that it's a lie, but he never bothers to say, until much later, what he was actually doing that morning that his wife disappeared.
Amy tricks us in another way, by writing a diary that is purely a work of fiction. I won't go into detail with that, though, as it kind of spoils one of the twists in the book. Or who knows, maybe me saying that the diary is fiction is enough to ruin the surprise. I'm sorry.
The point is: we're always at the mercy of these two characters, because the only story we know is the one they choose to tell us.
Now, I mentioned before that Flynn makes the most of the first-person perspective to give this novel a very dark, disturbing atmosphere - one expected from a psychological thriller. That is evidently due to the fact that we get to see the raw, carnal thoughts that each spouse feels towards the other as their marriage implodes. We see the vengeful side of Amy - vengeful to a disturbing fault - that makes her do what she does to her husband, and we see Nick's dark, violent thoughts as he discovers what's really going on. Their interaction at the book's end is especially disturbing, when they are forced to be together because they simply can't exist apart.
So much of this is true, realistically speaking, in relationships, although Gone Girl definitely takes it to an extreme. But what I applaud most about Flynn's novel is her ability, through this first-person perspective, to really capture the essence of human nature: the conflicting feelings, the ability to obsess, the dark urge towards violence that we, as a society, try to stow away and ignore. When it comes down to it, I personally believe that love can be as man-made as religion at times (I do consider myself Catholic, but I am not blind to my religion's history), and this novel reminds us of this - to some people - disturbing reality.
The depth that Flynn achieves with the human psyche is what, in my opinion, takes the genre of psychological thriller further than any other thriller I've read thus far. I characterize psychological thrillers as books that have the power to disturb me, and Gone Girl does that and more: it not only presents a disturbing plot, but it literally manages to mess with the reader psychologically. In other words, it makes you see things in yourself that have the potential to be frightening. I mean, after all, what is more disturbing than discovering something dark in your reality?
Flynn had this affect on me also thanks to her use of first-person: throughout the entire novel, I found myself switching sides. First I liked Nick and thought Amy was annoying, then I started falling into Amy's trap and feeling sorry for her in her diary entries, then I didn't like Nick anymore when I learned about his affair, and ultimately I couldn't help but admire Amy (more on that later). At times the book exhausted me and was too much for me handle. Unlike the critics that "could not put the book down," I needed a break. I would hear these two characters want to kill each other and admit to missing and loving each other, somehow. And it was all believable - understandable. I wanted my simpler, happier Sarah Addison Allen novels. I wanted to relax and feel optimistic. This book made me feel the opposite at times.
And, with that being said, I now want to settle onto my final thought for Gone Girl. Throughout the entire novel, but especially at the end, I found myself struggling with a single recurrent question:
What do my feelings towards these characters say about me?
As you may have been able to tell before, I mostly, and ultimately, sided with Amy. I found her to be a prissy, bitchy character at the book's start - the kind of girl that I can't stand, partially out of jealousy (oh lucky you, you have no qualms when your partner is out playing bachelor). Then I felt sorry for her because she appeared to be so committed to Nick. Unlike me, she wanted to better herself tremendously so that she could, in turn, be a better wife to her husband. She wanted to fix her marriage, and always wanted the best for Nick.
And, when the second half of the book happened and everything came to light, I admired her. Extremely so. Here is this woman who was cheated on and she was handing it back to her husband tenfold, in an intricate, foolproof, viciously entertaining way. Her way of getting back at him was brimming with satisfaction. As someone that has cheated in the past, I have an immense amount of disgust towards cheaters. I am also a vengeful person, an attention-seeker, and don't like when people get off lightly from hurting someone else. If I was cheated on right now, I feel pretty certain that I would get up and leave, but not without tearing both people apart verbally. Hypocritically speaking, I am also only in the relationship I am in now, with the person I've loved for years, because he forgave me for cheating on him.
Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite.
It's funny because I know people would read Amy's actions as going entirely overboard over something that is purely human. I mean, people cheat sometimes (right?), and they feel guilty and they come back feeling awful (yes, of course) and promising to be better (of course the moment was inevitable). And if you love each other, can't you understand that they are sorry, and that it was a matter of circumstance? That we would be polygamous creatures if not for what we - or someone years ago - decided would be civilized in a well-structured society?
I type of all this with a sickening aftertaste of sarcasm gumming up in my throat. Let's justify everything, why don't we?
Yes, without a doubt, that is why I admire Amy's ability to piece together a plan that she took so much pride in and satisfaction from. But I know my sarcastic parenthesis above may be offensive to some, because I know there are people who sided with Nick entirely once they realized what was going on, and wanted Amy dead or imprisoned like he did.
If this makes me a fairer person, I did not want Nick to get a death sentence, or even be imprisoned. But, in a way, as the story begins to approach its end, part of the end does become certain. That is: the book can only end a certain way. Flynn pushes us back and forth between the couple so much throughout the story that it would be infuriating to either one half of the readers or the other if the book were to end on a side. Gone Girl wouldn't be as popular as it is if it ended differently. The ending is, by far, perfect. Perfect, and the only ending that could be allowed. Which makes me wonder about the movie coming out later this year (which I knew would happen! I knew this book had to get turned into a movie, and I knew it because it seems like the kind of book that would fare well as a movie). We will see...
There are so many other aspects of the novel I could talk about - the role of technology, the role of setting in terms of the recession, the role of Nick's twin and other family members for that matter, the role of Amazing Amy (my copy of Gone Girl comes with reader discussion questions, so I'm just pulling topics from there). These are all aspects of the novel that ground it into reality and mold the plot in different ways, but I'm always prone to writing about character relationships and the imprint the novel leaves on my own mind, which is often due to characters and plot, rather than the book's historical cubby.
And, if you couldn't tell already, the complexity of this book and how it has managed to make me feel can lead to a review that will wind on and on forever. So I think I've said what was most important to me when it comes to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and I will end my review here.
This book was excellent - Flynn's writing is superb - and it took the genre of psychological thriller to an extreme that disturbed me both within the story and outside of it.
And on that note, I'm relieved that I'm done reading it. What a Dunne relationship we have, huh?
'Til next time! ('<>')>
"He is learning to love me unconditionally, under all my conditions." - Gone Girl (414)
Curious about my copy? Take a look:
Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl. New York: Broadway Books, 2012. Kindle file.