I bought Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn two weeks ago and decided to read it as soon as possible so as to avoid spoilers. I’d been lucky enough to go from the publishing date til today without hearing anything more than it was the story of a marriage and it all started when the wife disappeared so that the novel was a mystery/thriller/crime one. Good. Everyone who had also read it thought I was fine knowing that, neither too little nor too much. So, on Saturday night I tucked into bed and started reading. It took me longer than I expected (I finished it yesterday evening) but overall I’m glad with my reading since I’ve been working on my dissertation and trying to keep reading Anna Karenina.
Although I usually post a full description from Book Depository, I’ll adhere to what I said above: the less you know about Gone Girl, the better. It is a mystery novel and if you aren’t the type who reads the ending before the beginning (I hope there’s not many people like this!) you’re better only knowing it’s the story of a marriage. Author Gillian Flynn had already written a few other mystery novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects – which I’m dying to read – where people were very lonely and disconnected from each other, so she wanted to experiment with the idea of a marriage. I think this is a great idea. The institution of marriage has evolved a lot in recent times, especially thanks to feminism and the redefinition of marriage as a civil institution as well as a religious one. It is also very interesting how marriages have an appearance in society, almost-fixed gender roles that are now – thankfully – being redefined. Also, how marriages work as an identity: we never know what’s going on behind closed doors. And even if we think we do know, we actually don’t. This is the idea behind Gone Girl and it works spectacularly well. What really makes it work is how Gillian Flynn creates two different, distinctive voices: Nick’s and Amy’s and how reliable and plausible they both are. If anyone still doubted female writers cannot write convincing male characters, this book will prove them wrong, although I hope those people are a minority.
I highly recommend it to anyone who likes mystery and/or crime novels and in search for a good read. Despite being a NYT best-seller (are you a little bit snobbish like me and the “NYT best-seller puts you down when picking a book?) it is good, even dense and I, at least, had to put it down a few times to rest even though I’m afraid I was tired of reading and writing all day. So, yes, this is a great novel and I highly recommend it, especially if you want to read it before you encounter any spoiler or watch the movie even though it’s on its very early stages with Flynn herself adapting it and Reese Witherspoon producing.
This is how much you need to know if you haven’t read Gone Girl yet and I hope I haven’t over shared. Now, from this point on I’ll discuss SPOILERS from the novel, so continue reading at your own risk!
Now, where do I start? I loved Gone Girl and all throughout the book my admiration for Amy keep increasing. During Part I I was a little bit frustrated. She was the golden girl trapped in a bad – really bad – marriage and I even felt pity for her and her 1950’s attitude towards Nick. I’ve recently noticed an increase in this type of behaviour on the media, especially TV, with more and more women seeing a happy returning to domestic bliss, as if all modern troubles could be erased. I felt the same with Diary Amy and I even liked her, I thought she wanted to imitate a supposedly simpler and more domestic life in search for something to do, since she did not need to work at all. But then I got the part – a friend had warned me – when my mind went nuts and screamed: “What a b***h!”. I really did, shame on me, not because I thought what she was doing was wrong – I was right there with her- but because I too felt fooled. How could it be I never asked myself why I was reading her diary? I trusted Amy as a narrator and in return, I was fooled. But I loved it. I thought it was very clever of Flynn to use that technique because we tend to blindly trust out narrators: the moment we open a book we believe what is being told is true in the universe that comprises the book. But why should it be so? I started thinking about Nick – talk about coincidences – in The Great Gatsby and how he reminds everything so clearly so many years afterwards. Quite impossible, let me say!
Part II was great. I mean, the first chapter was just amazing, a modern-day view on feminism, gender roles and relationships. I loved how Flynn portrayed the Cool Girl: subjected to her husband/boyfriend desires, always putting his happiness before hers, always there, supporting, adoring, forgiving. An embarrassment for feminism, a perpetuation of what society – in general – expects from women. A joke of how we really are. I found this first chapter really empowering and thought, were I a professor or a teacher, I’d make my students read it and discuss it. However, I must admit I didn’t like that Amy thought all men were like that, because a bunch of the ones I know are not like that at all. It’s a kind of man the same as Cool Girl is a kind a woman and overgeneralizing could lead us to discrimination which I don’t support. It’s a step back and we need to move forward.
Part III was the culmination of a masterpiece. How could Amy tie it all up like she did? I don’t know. She’s a genius. And you would add “and a psycho, Elena. She abused herself with a bottle of wine for weeks to fake Desi raped her!!” Well yes, maybe she is, but I could not but admire her brightness, her control over everything, and her lists. Her 30-something to do lists were amazing. Amazing Amy. And the ending was… weird, extremely-psycho. I don’t know how I feel about Amy and Nick remaining together, constantly playing who’s in power, manipulating each other and with a child in between! I think I felt what Flynn was looking for throughout the novel: not to judge other people’s marriages. If they work, if they are happy and sane, then that’s more than half of the married couples get. Leave it alone.
And you may wonder: What about Nick? I certainly don’t know. I hated him. At first I thought he was really abusing Amy. I thought he had done something terrible to her. When it became clear he hadn’t, I still hated him for having taken a lover. And then for manipulating the media (Amy also did, but I liked it), manipulating Amy, showing me she had also a weakness: him. In the end, what mattered for this two was love, their weird, controlling, manipulative love. Had one of the two in the couple done it alone, it would be domestic violence. But the two of them? Perfect for each other! Which leads me to a key question: What if it Nick had been Amy? What if a man had done that? I think I’d be horrified although Nick did prove to be at Amy’s level eventually, so, roles-reversed, Amy would have risen to Nick’s level too. And it would be OK, right? As you see, I’m not sure it would have worked.
So, Gone Girl was everything I expected and more. Amy is the strong, main female character everyone promised and the story was surprising, challenging the reader’s assumptions about gender-roles, social class and money, appearance and sanity. It was more twisted than I expected though. This is a dark novel, the characters are incredibly well constructed, they are almost human. And to think that could happen, that we could end up like that. It’s scary. And exciting. That’s why I love crime novels and thrillers, because they play with what ifs we are too afraid to ask ourselves. But then you close the book and everything is all right.
This book is now at the level of my Kate Morton’s in that I find them extremely inspiring. Morton has such a passion for reading and writing that it easily translates into her own writing. Same happens with Gillian Flynn. This is complex book, but it became a best-seller and if you see interviews, she clearly enjoys writing. I thought if I could create a character half as a complex and appealing as Amy Elliot Dunne, I’d be done as a writer.
Lastly, I could not help to relate Amy to Tracy Flick from the 1999 film Election with a lovely and incredible interpretation from Reese Witherspoon. Amy is an adult, extreme version of Tracy, or, if you’ve seen the movie, maybe not so extreme. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, I highly recommend you to watch Election as well.
Update: This is my 250th post, and this is the perfect review to celebrate it!