Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown; 432 pages; $25).
“Let me set the scene,” to borrow a phrase from a character in Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girl. I normally do not read mysteries or thrillers; my exceptions are usually James Rollins and Steve Berry. Most mysteries are not well-written, and I roll my eyes over what someone says or does. I would rather read literature and fiction any day. Another reason I stay away from mysteries is that I can usually guess the plot in the first few chapters. Knowing what is coming simply takes the fun out of reading a so-called mystery.
I was reluctant to read Gone Girl, although I genuinely liked Flynn’s first novel Sharp Objects. When I saw Gone Girl was about a wife who disappeared, my first thought was, “Hello, Scott Peterson.” Been there, done that. I was forgetting one crucial factor, however. I had forgotten what a page-turner Flynn could produce and how nothing is simple in her world.
Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for exactly five years when Gone Girl begins. In fact, the very day the book begins is their anniversary. There will be no romantic candlelit dinners followed by an evening of dancing. Amy disappears. Not surprisingly, the police focus on Nick.
And Nick is all too aware of this fact: “Everyone knows it’s always the husband, so why can’t they just say it: We suspect you because you are the husband, and it’s always the husband. Just watch Dateline.”
The reader has no choice but to suspect Nick, too. He loved her once, deeply, but things have changed. They both lost their jobs and relocated to Nick’s hometown from New York City when his mother became ill. Money problems weigh heavily on them. In short, they were having trouble and were far from being a happy couple.
When Nick thinks of his wife, oddly, he “always” thinks “of her head,” specifically the back of her head. That does not bode well for Amy’s well-being, that’s for sure.
Yet Nick proclaims his innocence. I was skeptical, especially when he reveals he has told the police five lies, all within the first few minutes of meeting with investigators. His twin sister, Go (short for Margo), confirms that Nick would “lie, cheat, and steal” and even kill all “to convince people” he’s a good guy. Nick, we soon learn, is an unreliable narrator. Nothing he says can be trusted. He has no qualms whatsoever about lying, and he’s good at it–so good it’s scary.
Flynn takes us on many twists and turns throughout this story that I literally could not put the book down nor could I catch my breath. Gone Girl is a psychological thriller. Just when you think Nick is the culprit, Flynn throws us a curve ball by introducing Diary Amy. We meet Amy, but only through her diary entries. Through her eyes, Nick becomes a deeply sinister figure. But can we trust Diary Amy?
Amy loves “mind games” and creates a treasure hunt for Nick every year on their anniversary. She gives him clues to follow. Before Amy went missing, she wrote the clues for this year. As Flynn shows us more and more of Amy’s diary entries, one cannot help but notice the different stories Nick and Amy are telling. Amy may be unreliable, too; she may lie just as much as Nick does. The dilemma is who to believe. The trick is that both may be lying.
Amy is Flynn’s most intriguing character. Her parents wrote a series of books for children which were quite popular in the 1980s called “Amazing Amy.” The little girl in the books looked just like Amy; she was Amy, only better. There was always a moral in each and usually taken from an actual instance in the real Amy’s life. The real Amy did the opposite, though, of what “Amazing Amy” did. Her parents, thought real Amy, did it to teach her a lesson.
Kids loved to read the stories. So did a few freaks, like a girl Amy knew in school who began dressing and even acting like Amy. She went so far as to push Amy down the stairs. Then, there was the guy Amy dated who took their breakup so hard he tried to commit suicide. Nick goes on the offensive and tracks them down, insisting he did not hurt her. He criticizes the authorities for not going after the real culprit. Nick swears, despite evidence to the contrary, that he is innocent.
Yet, despite his protestations, all signs point to Nick, especially after the police find blood (and a lot of it!) in the kitchen. And why does Nick keep seeing Amy bleeding anyway? As Flynn writes, “I saw my wife, blood clotting her blond hair, weeping and blind in pain, scraping herself along our kitchen floor.” He hears her call his name: “Nick, Nick, Nick!” Might he be playing back the crime in his mind?
Just when you think you have it all figured out, Flynn introduces something else into the mix. This is a who-done-it that really keeps you guessing, right up until the last page. That’s what makes Gone Girl worth reading and what makes it so darn good. I do not remember ever reading a thriller with so many plot twists and revelations. After I finished, I wanted to immediately read it again to see what I had missed.
Amy was once a writer of personality quizzes for magazines. To end this review, I am going to borrow something from her yet again. After finishing Gone Girl and loving it, you:
A) Tweet about it to your followers—hey, it’s the least you can do.
B) Rate the book on Goodreads and even recommend it to your friends there—hey, they would like it, too.
C) Write a glowing critical review of the novel—hey, it’s just that good!
D) All of the above.
I know which choice I would pick. I have a hunch that, after you read it, you’d give the same answer as I. Gone Girl is Flynn’s best work. Everyone needs a good mystery, and I challenge you to find a better one. I know from experience that it isn’t easy!