“All this time I’d thought we were strangers, and it turned out we knew each other intuitively, in our bones, in our blood. It was kind of romantic. Catastrophically romantic.”
On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne receives a call at work from his neighbour, who tells him that his front door is hanging open, and his indoor cat is out on the porch. Suspecting that the neighbour is being a bit melodramatic, Nick nevertheless returns home, only to find evidence of a struggle in his living room, and no sign of his wife, Amy, except for a carefully wrapped present, the first clue in their traditional anniversary treasure hunt. Emotionally closed off most of the time, or smiling at inappropriate moments, Nick isn’t easy for the police or the public to like. Under the pressure of constant media scrutiny and police questioning, his efforts to prove his innocence only seem to dig him deeper. With the police focusing almost exclusively on him, Nick attempts to follow the trail of treasure hunt clues, hoping that following his wife’s final movements before her disappearance will lead him to the truth.
Despite being more than a year late to this party, I somehow managed to avoid spoilers for Gone Girl, possibly because I wasn’t paying attention to it. For all of the buzz surrounding it, every time I picked the book up and read the jacket copy, the idea of another mystery in which the husband may or may not have murdered his wife—it’s always the husband in popular culture—simply didn’t appeal to me. However, eventually enough friends recommended it to me that I decided to read it, if only because it would also fulfill a challenge category. When I began, the only concrete thing I could remember reading about the book was that it featured an unreliable narrator, but I had no idea if it was supposed to be Nick or Amy. This is another one of those books you’re better off knowing as little as possible about before you start reading. If you’re already going to read it, stop reading about it until you have.
Nick’s narration begins on the morning of the disappearance, and moves forward through the police investigation. His point of view alternates with chapters from Amy’s diary, beginning from the night she and Nick met, slowly unveiling their courtship, their wedding, the loss of their jobs during the 2008 recession, and their subsequent move from New York to Missouri to care for Nick’s aging parents, where their marriage slowly begins to unravel. As the two timelines begin to come together, they seem to tell very different stories about the Dunne’s marriage.
Mysteries are well known for being tightly plotted, and Gillian Flynn delivers on that score, but what really struck me about Gone Girl was the amount of character development devoted to Nick and Amy, which rivals anything I have ever seen within the genre. The characterization is both complex, and full of misdirection. Each chapter builds on the last, whether by adding new information about the characters, or perhaps twisting or contradicting what you thought you knew. The characters are as twisty as the plot.
Flynn parses out information carefully, with no guarantee that it is entirely true. Nick is “a big fan of the lie of omission,” and omit he does, keeping facts from the police and the reader alike. At the end of his third chapter he tells the police that he and Amy had reservations at Houston’s for their anniversary dinner. To the reader he adds, “It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting,” but Flynn only identifies this one lie. When Flynn decides to hand out a new piece of information, she delivers it like a punch to the gut, sharp and breath-taking. Like any good mystery, Gone Girl is full of carefully delivered twists, and Flynn is a master of blindsiding the reader in the best way possible; everything makes sense in retrospect, and yet nothing was obvious. I suspect this is a book that would benefit from a re-read, as there are undoubtedly many more tiny clues and details that I missed.
Gone Girl got off to a strong start, and only got better in the second act. Yet even within the last thirty pages, I was worried that Flynn couldn’t deliver the kind of ending this book deserved. There were a few easy ways out that I could see, but I’m happy to report that Flynn didn’t take any of them. Instead, the conclusion puts the book on a whole new level of creepy, delivering one final twist that is both brilliant and infuriating. This is the sort of psychological thriller that will keep you up at night.