#31 / Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (London: Phoenix, 2012). A wickedly entertaining portrait of a marriage gone horribly wrong  4.5 stars

Opening line: When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

I’d heard from lots of people that this off-beat American crime novel was good, but no one warned me how ridiculously fun it would be. From start to finish, Gone Girl was an absolute, wicked joy, and had me applauding its bravura characterisation and plot.

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing in North Carthage, Missouri, leaving the police sniffing suspiciously around husband Nick. The events up leading up to and including that day are narrated by husband and wife in alternating chapters, and provide the reader with two highly distinctive perspectives. Soon we’re having to ask ourselves a series of bracing questions: What exactly is the nature of the crime that’s been committed? Who, if anyone, is the perpetrator? Who, if anyone, is the victim? Who is trustworthy? Who is not? And trying to work out the answers makes for a hugely enjoyable and addictive read.

In addition, the novel provides us with a wonderfully dark portrait of a marriage gone sour; a meditation on the way couples act out idealised identities, and a dissection of the stories they tell to fashion reality for their own ends. This is fundamentally a novel about gender and power, and it doesn’t pull any punches (some great fodder for discussion here). There’s also a wonderfully scathing critique of the media’s relentless pursuit of a story, regardless of the truth or judicial process.

All of this might have ended up a bleak, rather depressing read, were it not for the seam of wickedly dark humour that runs throughout the book. Think Danny DeVito’s 1989 The War of the Roses, crossed with Fay Weldon’s 1984 The Life and Loves of a She Devil, with a dash of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 The Talented Mr. Ripley thrown in. And as for plotting, no one’s done a mid-narrative twist better since Sarah Walters’ 2002 The Fingersmith

20th Century Fox have acquired the property rights to the novel, with Reece Witherspoon set to produce, and David ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Fincher reportedly in talks to direct the film adaptation. It could be very, very good.

Mrs. Peabody awards Gone Girl a deliciously clever and satisfying 4.5 stars.

UPDATE 3 October 2014: The film of Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck is out now. Guardian film supremo Peter Bradshaw has given it 4 stars: read his review here.

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27 thoughts on “#31 / Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

  1. Mrs. P. – I’m very glad you thought this was funny. I have to say I didn’t find the characters likeable at all and I think you’ve made a very apt comparison to The War of the Roses. I’m honestly still sifting through my feelings about the book, but I couldn’t agree more that this tells the story from very different perspectives and uses effectively the unreliable narrator.

    • Thanks, Margot. I didn’t like the main characters either, and thought the humour was crucial in keeping them bearable for the reader.

      I’m mulling over lots of the gender angles, and can see that they would make for some lively discussion! I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow bookgroup members think of it – it’s the next one up on our list.

  2. I’m glad you had such a fun experience Mrs P. I didn’t like this one at all – found it very artifical and manipulative – not my cup of tea at all. But your comparison to War of the Roses is a good one – I didn’t like that either 🙂

    • Thanks, Bernadette. I had a feeling when I was reading that this might be a bit of a Marmite book, that readers would either love or hate. I wonder (quite seriously) whether a certain warped sense of humour is required 🙂 As I was saying to Margot above, I think the wry humour is vital in offsetting some of the monstrosity encountered, which might otherwise become pretty wearing.

      I admired Flynn’s writerly skills – especially the way she pulled off the characterisation, complex temporal structure and plotting. I knew I was being played as a reader, but went along for the pleasure of the ride!

  3. Love your comparisons to other tales of vitriolic marriage breakdowns! I liked how dislikeable the characters were as I detest nicey,smiley, schmaltzy, family units in my crime reads- think this probably says something darkly disturbing about me 🙂

    • Join the club, raven 🙂 I am slightly disturbed at just how much I enjoyed this novel!

      I wholly agree with you – I admired how dislikable Flynn had made her characters. After all, one of the key weapons a writer has is generating some form of positive identification between the reader and a character or set of characters. A class act.

    • Hi Rebecca – I hung on until it came out in paperback, which was the beginning of this year. Perhaps there’ll be a new wave of skinflint readers now?!

  4. I loved this one while I was reading it (although I agree with most readers’ assessment of the main characters’ unloveability). After I finished it, however, I got less and less comfortable with the ending. Still, very cleverly done.

    • Thanks, MarinaSofia. Ah yes, the ending… There’s so much that could be said about it, particularly from a gender point of view! About three quarters of the way through I sat down and worked out what I thought were the likely endings, and came up with four (not including the one it turned out to be). I’m not sure that any ending would have been perfect, but I thought this one was fitting in a number of ways (laying aside the question of the final tactic used by one of the characters to secure their aims).

  5. I finished this one just recently too. I thought it was very good, two fascinating and loathsome unreliable narrators, lots of twists, very cleverly done and very entertaining. Great review. I agree it could have seemed very depressing but somehow it wasn’t, and I think you’re right, that was due to the dark humour running throughout.

    • Thanks very much, Lindsay. Yes – it’s clever on so many different levels. Such a lot of thought must have gone into the planning of the novel, don’t you think? I imagine whole walls covered with timelines and plot developments, and a big notice saying ‘ACID HUMOUR’ 🙂

  6. I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn a few years ago and really liked it, and have been wanting to read Sharp Objects ever since; this one sounds like something I would enjoy too; I like dark humour, I actually found lots of American Psycho very funny – oh dear, should I be worried? By the way Mrs P, I am now watching The Bridge on DVD – and loving it! Best wishes Blighty

    • From what you say, I think you’d like it (and don’t worry, you’re not alone in being worried, if that makes sense).

      I’m really glad to hear that you’re enjoying The Bridge -it has a very different dynamic to The Killing, but I liked it very much too, especially the double-act of Saga and Martin.

  7. Hmmm. Much to ponder here. I have not been motivated to try Gone Girl, as I read Gillian Flynn’s first book Sharp Objects and did not like it at all. It lingered like a bad taste in my mouth for weeks. Everyone was a mess in that book, no one to like, deep patholology all around. Ugh.
    So, I don’t know if I’ll read this one.

    • Hi Kathy – I haven’t read Sharp Objects, but it sounds like Gone Girl has a similar feel, so you might be right in wanting to keep clear of this one! It could quite easily leave a bad aftertaste, depending on the sensibilities of the individual reader… Not one that’s for everybody.

  8. This is at the top of my paperback pile – so I haven’t read your review too closely! Do like the idea of the twist in the middle. I couldn’t put Fingersmith down. I’ve got a few more UK police procedurals to read (for research more than anything), but I can’t wait to get my hands on Gone Girl (plus the cover feels so velvety!)

    • It does, doesn’t it *strokes cover*. Sounds like Gone Girl could be a nice reward once you get your research done. It lived up to my expectations, which isn’t always the case with a much-hyped novel.

  9. Hi Mrs P, I’d just started on Gone Girl and didn’t want to read your review until I finished. I knew I could trust you not to write any spoilers, but I was trying to keep all hype at bay until I read the thing myself. I fully concur with your take on Gone Girl. I thought it was so clever, teasing, wickedly funny. A killer read. (I’ll be posting my review 11 Feb).

    • I’m really pleased to hear you enjoyed this one, Angela. A killer read indeed!

      I know what you mean about not reading any reviews in advance – even those that are spoiler-free can’t help leaking some significant information about the book, and it’s good to have a clear head, critically speaking, especially when the book in question has been heavily hyped.

      Look forward very much to reading your review!

  10. Dear Mrs P, I have just finished Gone Girl, and I loved it. couldn’t put it down, devoured it in 2 days. A brilliant tour de force, expertly constructed, full of dark humour and provocative characters. Actually admired Amy in a way, which I know is wrong, took an immediate and strong dislike to her parents, found Tanner the lawyer most amusing. Admired the way the author gave one character’s view of events and then the other character’s view of the same events but without repeating the whole thing – managing in just a couple of lines to convey to the reader that the other character felt completely differently. A clever and entertaining book that makes the reader feel clever and gripped, what more can one want? And a definite genre buster – so much more than a thriller. Mm, guess you can gather that I liked this one.

    • Isn’t it great? It was this month’s book at my local (all woman) bookgroup, and everyone absolutely loved it. Not a single dissenter, which is pretty unusual for us. Like you, everyone thought that it was extremely clever, got hooked straight away, and had an absolute ball reading it.

    • Thanks for that link, Blighty – both the reviews and the comments are mighty entertaining, as you say. Taken as a whole, they reinforce my early feeling about this book: if you don’t get the novel’s black humour, then you will probably dislike Gone Girl intensely (because all that remains visible is the disagreeable nature of the characters and the venom of the situation). But there is so much more going on here, as my review tried to point out – not least the wonderful critique of the role the media plays in constructing narratives that suit them, regardless of the facts.

  11. Pingback: The press on trial: crime fiction and the media | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

  12. Pingback: #42 / Gillian Flynn, Dark Places | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

  13. Pingback: Mother knows best? Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (USA) and Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian (Spain) | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

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